Food Insecurity: It's everywhere and how your students can help
Food security is defined as having economic and physical access to a sufficient level of safe and nutritious food. Food insecurity exists everywhere in the country. Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, has a comprehensive website describing hunger among various demographic groups and data about food insecurity. It reports that “1 in 6 children may not know where they will get their next meal.”
Hungry children face higher risks of health conditions like anemia and asthma; and it’s hard for them to concentrate in school when undernourished.
What is the level of food insecurity in your area? A review of Feeding America’s national map of food insecurity levels shows that high levels of insecurity exist in urban and rural areas.
In some cases, food insecurity results because an area is a food desert, defined as when the population of the area doesn’t have ready physical access to a “full-line” grocery store, farmer’s market or other healthy food store. Check your area using this USDA interactive atlas map.
Focus on Detroit: An “Opportunity Desert”
- 30,000 Detroiters do not have access to a full-line grocer;
- 48 percent of households are food insecure;
- 40 percent of households rely on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, most commonly referred to as food stamps) and
- 19 percent of Detroit children are enrolled in WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children program that provides for targeted nutritious food from approved local vendors); In Detroit, 48 percent of WIC stores are liquor stores.
As the map above shows, Detroit has some areas that are food deserts, but the report concludes that the real issue is that Detroit is an “opportunity desert” because economic and transportation issues hinder access to grocery stores.
A network of food pantries and other food assistance centers, as well as government programs, help fill the food gap, but many Detroiters suffer from poor diets that contribute to high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the City.
Making a Difference
How can your students impact food insecurity in your community? They can find their voice and build agency through engagement with the issue.
Learning to Give recently posted a Food Security and Food Justice toolkit exploring these issues with suggested lesson plans and links to local food-related organizations. Here are a few of the ideas from the toolkit:
- Using LTG’s Community Mapping Guide, create a local guide to finding healthy food and food assistance centers;
- Discuss healthy food choices for your students and their families; and/or
- Volunteer at an urban farm like D-Town Farm in Detroit or for a local food pantry. Feeding America also has suggestions for volunteering and advocacy.
Article written by Mary Rouleau, Learning to Give's 2018 Wayne County Classroom Community Coordinator.