It’s a grim topic but has rather been watered down throughout the years to yet another commonly heard, impersonal colloquialism. But hunger and food insecurity, for the sake of those affected, shouldn’t just be brushed over and ignored – especially because it’s a struggle that isn’t unique to third-world countries. It’s a very real problem in America, including Indiana.
“Approximately 14.1 percent of Indiana households were considered food insecure from 2011-2013, with 6.1 percent experiencing very low food security. An estimated 15.8 percent of Indiana residents were considered to be living in poverty in 2013.”
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity can be classified in one of two ways, “low food security” and “very low food security.” Low food security can be defined as “three or more reported indications of food-access problems that resulted in diet quality reduction, but did not substantially affect the quantity of food or their normal eating patterns.” Very low food security is defined by multiple reported indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
Programs Addressing Food Insecurity
there are a variety of programs through which individuals with limited access to food can receive assistance. While these programs are helpful, they rely largely on community involvement and contributions. Here are three of the most common aid programs in Indiana:
- SNAP – an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, this government-funded aid is available to low-income individuals who meet the qualifications. SNAP benefits function as a debit-like system, with fund made available on a certain day of the month based on case number or last name. Eligibility benefits are determined based on income, family size, living expenses and assets like real estate, vehicles, and bank accounts. As of June 2014, 46.5 million people were receiving benefits from SNAP, which is only about 75% of eligible persons. SNAP benefits can be used for all food items, not including beer, wine, liquor or tobacco.
- WIC – an acronym for the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program, which “provides supplemental foods, healthcare referrals, nutrition education, and breastfeeding promotion and support to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.”
- Emergency Food Providers
- Food banks – non-profit organizational warehouses that collect and distribute food to food panties, soup kitchens and other meal programs, not usually directly to persons in need. The vast majority of food items come from grocery stores, food manufacturers and wholesalers, often in lots of thousands of pounds. The food is organized, divided and sold at $0.19/Lb. to surrounding food pantries or soup kitchens. Food donated by individuals constitutes a very small portion of the food at food banks.
- Food pantries – food distributors that provide food access to community members in need. Food pantries distribute unprepared food to individuals. Unlike a food bank which functions as a storehouse, a food pantry serves as a grocery source for individuals.
- Soup kitchens – provide prepared hot or cold meals to individuals in the community. While the term originated in the depression era when soup (prepared with water for economic reasons) was distributed to the poor, modern soup kitchens provide balanced, nutritionally adequate meals. Read more about the origins of soup kitchens here.
Current Issues with Food Insecurity
An unfortunate trend among persons suffering from food insecurity is larger than normal rates of obesity. It is possible (and all too common) for an individual to be malnourished, but still receiving a surplus caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy, high body mass index. This is all despite a deficiency in essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals. While food pantries do a great job of providing a means for children to fill their bellies, they often aren’t receiving all the nutrients they need because there is a lack of availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, high quality protein and complex carbohydrates. The necessity of shelf-stability in food items at food banks and pantries (and even at soup kitchens) warrants calorie-rich meals with little nutritional value. As a result, food insecure individuals also suffer all the health consequences from obesity, as well as those from nutritional deficiencies. For this reason it is imperative to increase access to fresh, healthy food. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
- Increasing access to SNAP
- Using SNAP benefits at farmers markets
- Engaging local farms to provide produce
- Community efforts to source healthier foods
Ways You Can Help
Increasing the availability of healthy food at food pantries and soup kitchens requires help from the community. Whether you are a farmer, food producer or neighbor, there are ways that you can contribute! Here are just a few:
- If you’re a company… the largest portion of donated food bank stock is sourced from food companies who discard or donate food lots. Food manufacturers, wholesalers and grocery stores can help tremendously by donating the goods themselves. Similarly, all types of businesses can donate funds to local food banks and pantries, or provide sponsorship. Even small portions of company income can have an enormously positive impact in the lives of individuals in need.
- If you’re a gardener or farmer… fresh produce is one of the most needed categories of food items at food pantries and soup kitchens. Did you know that you can donate your own fresh produce to help feed those in need? Sharing in this way doesn’t just put food on tables that would otherwise be empty – it provides the lacking nutritional quality so that those people can go on to lead healthy and productive lives.
- If you’re an individual in the community… organizing food drives is a great way to engage your neighbors in providing goods, and especially to raise awareness. Filling a grocery bag is awesome, but the unfortunate truth is that one bag doesn’t last very long in feeding a family. For the same amount of money individuals use to buy food at grocery store, a food bank is able to buy more food directly from a wholesaler if the cash is given to the food bank. There are other ways to help, though. Time is also in high demand at food pantries and soup kitchens. Gather a group of friends and make a fun day of volunteering in your community!
How can you help those accessing your services have a choice? How can you be more creative with the food coming from the food pantry? Watch this video from Ken McKan about food choice.
Feeding America. (2015). What is a Food Bank? [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.feedingamerica.org/about-us/how-we-work/food-bank-network/what-is-a-food-bank.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/
Purdue University. (2015). Food Insecurity Definitions. Indiana’s Emergency Food Resource Network. [Online]. Retrieved from https://www.purdue.edu/indianasefrnetwork/home/hungerfacts.aspx
Purdue University. (2015). Food Insecurity in Indiana. Indiana’s Emergency Food Resource Network. [Online]. Retrieved from https://www.purdue.edu/indianasefrnetwork/home/hungerinindiana.aspx
SNAP to Health! (2015). SNAP: Frequently Asked Questions. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/#howmany
The Soup Kitchen. (2015). History. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.thesoupkitchen.org/history.html
USDA. (2015). Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. WIC Prescreening Tool. [Online]. Retrieved from http://wic.fns.usda.gov/wps/pages/start.jsf