Chapter 3: Food that Nourishes
If the image that comes to mind when we think about hunger and poverty is an undernourished person starving in their home or on the street, it is time to reset our perception. Our national relationship to food has changed significantly in the 21st century. Beginning in 2006, the U.S. government made a distinction between hunger (an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity) and food insecurity (a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food) and recognized different levels of food insecurity that families may experience.1 As families’ and individuals’ experiences have changed, our lexicon has shifted and so must our understanding of the intersection of access to food and poverty.
The reality today goes beyond hunger. Some food-insecure households may seem like they would never suffer; they could have a home, appliances, televisions, and cell phones. One incident, however, can throw a family into an economic crisis, causing food to become a lower priority.2 Low wages strain families and force them to decide between paying for healthcare, insurance, transportation, and housing, or putting healthy food on the table.
It is not rare for working families or individuals to require assistance meeting their basic nutritional needs in the United States today. In 2017, more than 40 million people received assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in a given month, and more than half of these SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult were working.3 More adults and children are eligible for other nutrition programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and school lunches, but all of these programs combined still fail to meet the country’s full need.
Living in “food deserts,” areas with limited selections of healthy food due to the lack of grocery stores, also negatively affects families and individuals.4 Families with limited transportation shop at stores closer to home, which may lack healthy options. Foods that are high in added sugar are often cheaper than fresh fruit, vegetables, and other foods with necessary vitamins. This nutrition deficit has serious implications, affecting health, children’s school performance, and overall well-being.
Systems and structures in our society have made communities of color particularly susceptible to food insecurity. Today, African American individuals and families suffer from food insecurity at twice the rate of white, non-Hispanic households.5 Lower average income, higher poverty rates, and other factors contribute to this disproportionate rate of food insecurity. Latino households are also vulnerable to higher rates of food insecurity, and are less likely to get help with nutrition assistance programs at a federal level because of limited information about the programs or concern over immigration status (SNAP has a five-year residency requirement).6
As people of faith, we believe access to healthy, nutritious food is a human right. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but there are millions who experience food insecurity each year. In the 21st century, no one in a nation as wealthy as ours should suffer from hunger or food insecurity.
Reflecting on Food Insecurity
Eric Mitchell, Director of Government Relations at Bread for the World, shares his reflection on food insecurity
A Personal Story about Food Insecurity
Jacques Angelino addresses rural poverty and food insecurity in Appalachia.
Facts and Figures
- In 2016, roughly 41 million people struggled with hunger, including 13 million children.7
- More than 50% of households experiencing food insecurity are white.2
- Around 94% of majority African-American counties in the United States are food-insecure.8
- African-Americans households are four times more likely than their white counterparts to suffer from ‘very low food insecurity.’8
- 24% of Latino children suffer from food-insecurity compared to 13% of white, non-Hispanic children.9
Words of Wisdom
On the third day, you produced “…every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” Since the beginning of time, you have gifted us with seeds, soil, water, and sunlight to help us produce food that continues to nourish our body, soul, and mind.
For these gifts, we thank you.
The feeding of the human race involves millions of people who grow, pack, transport, and prepare food that has nourished our body, soul, and mind. Our morning cereal, midday sandwich, and evening rice could not be possible without the effort of so many of our neighbors.
For these providers and their efforts, we thank you.
Your son celebrated many meals with those he loved, people often excluded by others in the community. Around such tables, he and we grew and continue to grow in relationship with family, friends, and strangers. Bless those hosts who make such relationship building around a common table possible.
For these opportunities, we thank you.
For growers and consumers who share their resources with food pantries; for men, women, and youth who volunteer at food banks; for policy advocates who lobby on food security with our lawmakers–may they be sustained in their ministries.
For these community servants, we thank you.
For every man, woman, and child, in the United States and abroad suffering from lack of food security, that their material needs may be met.
For the grace to discover Christ in service to those suffering from lack of nutrition, we thank you.
We offer this prayer through Christ our Lord.
Written by Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.
- How has your understanding of food insecurity and poverty changed by learning more information about the issue?
- What impact do you believe that higher rates of food insecurity have on the health outcomes of communities of color?
- What is the effect of the price of healthy foods increasing while processed and fatty foods are becoming cheaper? What does this mean to low income communities and communities of color?
Learn more about food insecurity in the 21st Century:
- National Geographic: The New Face of Hunger https://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/hunger/
- Feeding America: What is Food Insecurity? https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/
1. United States Department of Agriculture. Definitions of Food Security. October 4, 2017, https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security/
2. McMillan, Tracie. The New Face of Hunger. National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/hunger/
3. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Policy Basics: Introduction to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). October 3, 2017, https://www.cbpp.org/research/policy-basics-introduction-to-the-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap
4. American Nutrition Association. USDA Defines Food Desert. http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts
5. Feeding America. African American Hunger Facts. 2016, http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/african-american-hunger-facts.html
6. Garcia, Alejandro. Fighting Hunger Among Latino Children. Center for American Progress, June 2011, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/news/2011/06/02/9739/fighting-hunger-among-latino-children/
7. Feeding America. Facts about poverty and hunger in America. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-and-poverty-facts.html
8. Bread for the World. Hunger and Poverty in the African-American Community. February 2017, http://www.bread.org/sites/default/files/african-american-fact-sheet-february-2017.pdf
9. Feeding America. Latino Hunger Fact Sheet. September 2017, http://www.feedingamerica.org/assets/pdfs/fact-sheets/latino-hunger-fact-sheet.pdf