What is food security? How does food insecurity effect Americans? These are questions that will start to be asked more and more frequently with the upcoming Farm Bill on the table (more accurately, the chopping block). One would hope that the American public is educated on food security and what implications that has on reading the pulse of our nation. Unfortunately, if you do not find yourself in a position where you are unable to provide the basic nutritional needs for your family, you may not be aware of this issue.
So what is food security? Food security is a measure of food availability for peoples of any given nation. When we think of individuals who are not able to meet the basic needs of their families, we often this of Sub Saharan Africa or Asia, where many folks are working with less than $2.00 a day for their food, and many of that group is actually working with less than $1.00/day. When you take into account that the UN states that 2400 calories is the recommended caloric intake, and when we drop below 1100 then the process of starvation begins. How do you feed a family, all members needing that many calories with less than a $1.00?
What are the factors (other then ready cash) that effect food security? There are many things that can alter the availability of food. Seed, harvest, storage, transport, and distribution are large categories that all play a vital roll in how consumers gain access to food. There are many others, as well as intricate subcategories in this "food chain". For much of the world's hungry, unfortunately those who control the transport and distribution of food to gain political control or to force the hand of individuals skew the reality of food abundance. We can see how bleak the situation is for many of the individuals where this type of behavior is occurring. Although I am not disregarding the massive need that our growing world population has, I would like to return the focus on America for this post.
In a nation where seed consistency, harvest, storage, and transport are not major issues, how does food insecurity effect Americans? Are there hungry people in our nation? How does policy help to offset the malnutrition of our citizens? These are all questions that are important for us as a community of farmers and consumers to understand. A recent report by the US Department of Agriculture states that "despite increased unemployment, nutrition programs are helping prevent food insecurity." In the article "Federal Food Assistance Working Well" the facts are laid out. "The report "Food Security in the United States 2009" found that 17.4 million households in America had difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of resources, about the same as in 2008." The article continues further saying that "Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon says the report highlights just how critical federal nutrition assistance programs are for American families in need. He says the programs are designed to respond rapidly and automatically to emerging needs in times of economic change and will expand and contract with the economy." If we are in fact going to need to remain flexible then our legislators need to be aware of the need as budgetary cuts are made. This is all good news as a whole, that we are meeting the needs of our citizens. However it causes me to stop and think. Other questions I have:
How do we improve distribution of fresh foods (animal or plant based) to the food deserts of our large cities? What implications is the need to remain flexible going to have on the other portions of the farm bill (the commodity, environmental and research components)?
"According to Concannon, the fact that the numbers did not increase despite a significant increase in unemployment and poverty in the United States between 2008 and 2009, underscores the important role of Federal nutrition assistance programs in helping to prevent food insecurity." When people cannot get their basic needs met, their physical and mental health is compromised as is their productivity in society. Our society is battling so many hurtles right now, I don't think this would be the time to go to battle on an empty stomach, or an empty pocket book. How do we bridge the gap of nutrional needs and budgetary deficits without hurting the other farming programs?
On this topic, you may want to listen to the "Our Town Ohio" broadcast on Poverty. http://ofbf.org/media-and-publications/listen/4/542/