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A Geographical Look at Hunger

April 23, 2018

FBNW Blog: A Geographical Look At Hunger

We like statistics here at FBNW. That is, we like using them to motivate us to work even harder to diminish the number of children suffering from food insecurity, but there is certainly nothing pleasing about some of the statistics we come across.

According to the  United States Department of Agriculture , 41.2 million people in the United States struggle with food insecurities. 6.5 million of those people are children living in households that do not have reliable or sustainable access to food. That statistic is overwhelming but motivating at the same time, it just means that we at FBNW have a lot of work to do!

 

When you hear that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. go to bed hungry every night, it really puts our mission into perspective. However, it is a lot more in-depth than simply lining up people and counting 1 in every 5.

According to the  World Food Programme , 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry throughout the entire world. While it is a relief that the worldwide statistic is not as high as the United States, it raises some serious questions about what is going on in our country.

I remember being in grade school, teachers scolding us for throwing away food, reminding us that “there are hungry kids in third world countries,” trying to give us some perspective. Or, even younger, my mom complimenting me for finishing all my dinner and making it to the “clean plate club,” which was really just her way of teaching me to not bite off more than I could chew - quite literally.

Now, with a new outlook, I cringe a little whenever I hear sayings referring to hunger in other countries. While it is a worldwide issue that needs to be addressed, many people are simply blind to the fact that their neighbor or peer could be the 1 in 5 that is going to bed hungry in the United States.

 

The issue is not spread proportionally throughout the United States, with some states struggling far more than others. An article from  CNN.com  dives into the issue, and it is definitely worth the read.

The article includes a graph from the USDA that outlines where exactly all of these issues are coming from. The two highest percentiles on the map are 17.6% to 18.4% and 19.2% to 20.8%. Thankfully, only 5 states fall into those high-risk categories: Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Unfortunately, however, there are still plenty of states that fall around 15% of their populations struggling with food insecurities. We want that number to be 0 someday.

So, what gives? Why do some regions struggle with food more than others?

Plenty of factors contribute to this disparity. Even further than which State someone lives in, there is even a difference in food security for those that live within metro areas versus in more rural areas. According to the CNN.com article, there is a 3.2% increase in food insecurity in rural areas compared to those living in metro communities.

 

National Public Radio  put out a great educational question-and-answer style article that worked to answer some of these lingering questions. One big explanation for the imbalances in the hunger statistics is the access or lack of access to food.

Think about it, if you live in a pretty populated area, it is highly likely that you have several options of grocery stores to choose from. You may choose one because of its better prices or maybe you have found that another one always has the best produce. But, some people do not have that luxury. Yes, for this blog, we are going to count grocery shopping as a luxury, not just something on your Sunday to-do list.

The NPR article explained that some more rural and poverty-stricken areas could be over thirty miles away from the nearest grocery store. Even if some areas have grocery stores, they might not have the resources to keep their produce and meat fresh. In a different post about  our country’s food banks , we discuss the importance of access to fresh food and how limited those resources are to food insecure families.

 

As it turns out, food insecurities are not always linear. Families often find themselves on a roller coaster, if you will. When a family is close to or at the poverty line, they barely manage through proper budgeting and other resources. However, when there are unexpected costs, food is often the first thing to be cut out.

Take even me for example: a “broke” college kid. If it is the week my rent or utilities are due, I will likely skip on the fast food run with friends or decide to get store brand versus name brand at the store.

Now, take parents trying to feed their entire family. If something like an emergency room visit or a house repair comes up, it is likely that food is pushed off for them too. While they are managing their lives at the poverty line, an unexpected expense like this can easily throw them off kilter, and drain their food budget.

Another issue that most don’t think about is the United States’ waste and how it ties in with the country’s hunger issue. Think about it. You had a filling meal and scraped the rest of your plate into the trash, not really thinking much of it. From that same CNN.com article, the National Resource Defense Council cited that $165 billion worth of food is wasted by Americans each year. Yes, that is “billion” with a “b.”

 

What does that mean for those that do not have food so readily available? Well, all that wasted food could feed an estimated 25 million Americans. That half an apple you toss out or few bites of mashed potatoes you scrape into the trash after dinner may not seem like much. However, like anything else, it sure adds up when done by an entire country.       

What makes food insecurity such a daunting and ever present issue is how many implications surround it. It is not simply 1 in 5 Americans going to bed hungry. It is where some people live in the United States, the resources people have access to, the qualifications that go into getting government support, our immense yearly waste, and even more.

During the Great Recession in 2008, the rate of food insecure households with children reached 11%. While we rejoice that the percentage has dropped to 7.8% since 2015, that percentage still does not sit well with us. Because this issue is quite complex, no effort is too small to help chip away at it. Whether it be buying a tee from us, volunteering at your local food bank, or simply being more mindful of your waste, anything can help even out the hunger playing field in our country.

 


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