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The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation defines food security as: ”a condition where all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Despite expectations that living in advanced capitalist societies would ensure food security, this is not universally true. Tough economic times can and do happen everywhere in the world. Even in wealthy, developed countries, some people struggle every day to make ends meet. Sometimes, those people are families with young children. You may think that hunger is only experienced by the few. Yet we see working parents missing meals so that their kids can eat, and vulnerable individuals turning to charities daily to get a meal. This is unacceptable.
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Reducing Hunger in Developed Nations
Millions of people are still struggling to get by because of underemployment, stagnant wages and rising costs of living. People who are economically marginalized find themselves increasingly distanced from access to nutritious food. In nations where people mainly buy their food rather produce it themselves, the amount of money you have determines how you eat. Food is one of the few flexible items in a household budget. When families don’t eat there are consequences that can last a lifetime.
Kids who don’t get enough to eat begin life at a serious disadvantage. These children are more likely to be hospitalized and they face higher risks of health conditions like asthma and anemia. And as they grow up, they are more likely to have problems in school.
There is also a paradox that “hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin”- Melissa Boteach. When resources are limited people make a trade-off by choosing food that’s filling but not nutritious. This may contribute to obesity which has many negative effects on health.
We all want to live in a just and compassionate society, in which everyone has access to good food. We need to take personal responsibility to take care of those in need and make sure they can be happy and healthy. Everyone can take direct actions to reduce hunger. But how do we go to the source and end poverty for those who have become hungry?
A Global Issue
Hunger, in the context of developed nations, means the lack of access to food when families do not have enough money, causing them to cut the size, quality, or frequency of their meals throughout the year. Around the globe people in “wealthy” nations are struggling with hunger.
In Australia, 3.6 million people have experienced food insecurity at least once in the last 12 months.
In the United States, almost 49,000,000 people are faced with hunger or food insecurity any given year.
In Japan nearly, 16 percent of two-parent families are financially unable to provide enough food for their children, and this figure jumps to 32 percent among single-parent households.
In Canada, 13 percent of citizens live in a state of food insecurity.
In the UK as many as 8.4 million people struggle to put enough food on the table, equivalent to the entire population of London.
There are many factors influencing this pervasive hunger. Education poses an issue when acquiring work, because most higher paying jobs will not hire those without a college degree, creating an income disparity. The lack of jobs available increases poverty which in turn decreases excess of food. Wages becoming stagnant in jobs that do not require higher education also contributes to the poverty causing hunger. The cost of living is ever-increasing while wages stay the same, making it impossible in some cases to provide for a family.
Society needs to act to end hunger and the poverty at the root of the problem. The actions of individuals to help those in need succeed are a key factor in ensuring people are well fed. So, what are organizations and individuals doing to end this global epidemic?
A system of emergency food providers is in place with soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters and food banks. There are also mobile pantries which bring food distribution sites to the hard-to-reach places that need it the most. Organizations are working with food producing companies to take their excess food that would otherwise go to waste and donating it to organizations like these.
Afterschool programs are also in place to feed children who do not have food to eat at home. These programs help children grow up healthy and have good nutrition even when school is out.
There is also a Food and Hunger Movement now that encourages people to grow their own food in their backyards and in community gardens, to support the growing Farm to School Programs to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into our schools and much more. These are important steps beyond emergency food.
Campaigns are also taking place to raise awareness of the epidemic of hunger. They bring together non-profits to come up with solutions, host events and support those in need. Bringing communities together to ensure their people are fed is a very effective way of helping the hungry.
These are all excellent hands-on actions to end hunger but there are also structural issues to address when tackling this epidemic.
Salaries have not kept up with the escalating costs in housing, healthcare, higher education, childcare and many household items. Because we need to work to strengthen the Federal Nutrition Programs. In America, Food Stamps have been replaced by a free debit card, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Even though this program is a step in the right direction many citizens on this program must often skip meals, buy cheap non-nutritious food and suffer bad physical and psychological health. SNAP recipients typically run through their monthly allotment in three weeks, then turn to food pantries. This program needs to be streamlined and better funded to allow families to remain fed consistently.
Farmers also need to be supported by their local communities as well as government. The way we produce food must also be changed. Food loss occurs at every stage of the food production and distribution system. 52 billion pounds of food from manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants end up in landfills. An additional 20 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables are discarded on farms or left in fields and plowed under. We need to refine food production and make sure what we produce ends up in the hands of those who need it.
By encouraging programs that aid the hungry and streamlining food production to give the excess produced to those in need we can end the widespread issue of hunger.
A Healthy Happy World
Hunger cannot be solved by food or government efforts alone. We require stronger government programs, community engagement, help from companies, as well as personal action. If we take these steps we can ensure every man, woman, and child in our world are healthy, happy, and well fed.