by Andy Roselund
What is hunger? Hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), is defined as, “not having enough to eat to meet energy requirements.” However, at the root of all hunger experienced in the 21st century is food insecurity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as, “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” This issue is a major problem for millions of hungry people worldwide, and it affects every single community around the globe. These communities include developed areas where food insecurity is not immediately apparent, such as New Jersey. 1.1 million people reside in food-insecure households in New Jersey alone as of 2014, which is roughly 12% of the general population. One-third of this affected population are children under the age of 18. Evidently, food insecurity can affect people of all ages as well, and poses a major problem for New Jersey and the United States.
What causes food insecurity?
Many modern problems primarily relating to income and shortage of household funds can be catalysts for food insecurity. Issues such as high housing costs, tax rates and lack of food aid (i.e. food stamps, food pantry access) do indeed contribute to the buildup of food insecurity. However, the leading cause of food insecurity in the United States is simply unemployment and low wages. 6.5% of New Jersey residents are unemployed as of April 2015, and in 2014, 14.8% of Americans placed below the poverty line ($23,834 for family of four). 11.1% of NJ residents placed below the national poverty line, the fourth highest total of any state. Generally speaking, when families do not have enough money to purchase healthy, nutritional foods nor the ability to seek help for acquiring food, food insecurity can and will arise.
What are the effects of food insecurity?
Millions of hungry people around the world live in food insecure households, but the repercussions of food insecurity on children are especially dire. Healthy, nutritious foods are crucial for physical and brain development, but children living in food insecure households are usually unable to acquire these kinds of foods. Feeding America, a partnership of food banks scattered around the United States, reports that children living in food insecure households are more likely to experience impairments in areas such as motor skills, and are more likely to have social and behavioral issues. These problems can set children back in school, as, for example, children living in food insecure households are more likely to have to repeat a grade in elementary school. Food insecurity also affects another fragile group of the American population: our seniors. According to Feeding America, 5.4 million senior United States citizens (60 or older) live in food-insecure households as of 2013, and people included in this population have been proven to be more at risk for various negative health conditions, including heart attacks, depression, asthma, and more. Evidently, the effects of food insecurity are dire across all age boundaries.
How can you help?
Many organizations around the United States are dedicated to ending food insecurity in their local communities. Almost every day, volunteers of all ages flock to soup kitchens, such as Toni’s Kitchen, to feed hot, nutritious meals to hundreds of people in need. Additionally, food pantries, such as the Human Needs Food Pantry and the New Jersey Community Food Bank, help Essex County and New Jersey residents who cannot afford fresh groceries by offering nutritious, healthy food for people to take home, completely for free. You can help the fight against hunger and food insecurity in New Jersey by volunteering your time at one of these great organizations, or by simply donating much-appreciated food or money. Thank you for your generosity!