The Effects of Food Insecurity in the Community
Food insecurity is not having the ability to acquire nutritious foods essential for a healthy diet and life (Feeding America, 2011). This problem is a common issue in the Monterey County Salinas Valley, especially among the Latinos, African Americans, single mothers, senior citizens, and children who live in low-income households (Kresge, 2011). Factors that indicate food insecurity are location, unemployment, availability of nutritious foods, and conditions of markets.
Effects of food insecurity are health problems, emotional stress, behavior issues, and academic challenges. To be able to prevent this problem, simple solutions can be done at a personal level. Donating or volunteering at a local food bank, hosting a food drive, and/or raising awareness about food assistance programs around the area are simple ways to contribute to the solution in a community (Monterey County, 2017). If everyone contributes to these solutions, it is possible to promote opportunities in the community for positive change and hope for everyone.
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It is ideal for everyone to have access to affordable and nutritious food, but this is not the case for many low-income and minority communities. Food insecurity, the state of being without access to nutritious food, is a huge problem in many parts of the United States as it affects 12.7 percent of all American households (Feeding America, 2011). Most low-income families can not afford healthier alternatives and/or do not live within one mile of a supermarket. Due to these conditions, folks will usually spend their money on cheaper, convenient foods sold at fast food restaurants or convenience stores, which are also located closer. These options are unhealthy diets that lack nutrition and affects low income families in negative ways, such as health problems and academic challenges.
The Salinas Valley is dubbed as the “salad bowl” of the United States, and Monterey County is currently the third highest grossing agricultural crop producing county in the United States (Kresge, 2011). Despite its abundance of fresh produce, the Monterey County is also the 58th highest ranking county in California of individuals living in food insecure households (Kresge, 2011). According to Lisa Kresge (2011), author of the article “Food Insecurity Among Farmworkers in the Salinas Valley, CA,” there are 51,000 individuals that earn incomes lower than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level who are food insecure.
The Training Association and Monterey County Health Department conducted a Salinas Valley Food Security Assessment and Planning Study (2008). The results suggest that 17 million American households in the United States are suffering from food insecurity, 32.4 million are adults and 16.5 million are children (Kresge, 2011). These households are usually characterized as below-poverty income level, Hispanic or African American, and are occupied with single mothers, senior citizens, and children (Kresge, 2011).
Discussion of Research
Food insecurity does not only results in hunger in the community. It also affects the household’s health problems, emotional stress, behavior issues, and academic challenges. Indicators of food insecurity include location, unemployment, availability of nutritious foods, and conditions of markets.
Causes of Food Insecurity
Location. Those who are food insecure often live in food deserts and food swamps. Food deserts are the lack of nutritious food within a mile from the family (Stowers, 2017). In 2000, about 23.5 million people of the U.S. population lived in a food desert (Stowers, 2017). Most of the time, these low-income families do not have any personal transportation to travel long distances to buy healthier food options, so they will settle with the alternative neighborhood convenient store or fast food restaurant to have a meal with their families (Stowers, 2017).
In the absence of a grocery store in these low-income communities, there are food swamps to replace it (Stowers, 2017). The authors of the journal Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better than Food Deserts in the United States (2017) described food swamps as “areas with a high-density of establishments selling high-calorie fast food and junk food, relative to healthier food option.” Since these establishments are affordable and available in these food deserts, it is more likely for families to invest their time and money on fast food. In addition to the establishments, advertisements and commercials of unhealthy foods total to 30 billion dollars every year in the United States, impeding the individuals’ healthy options (Gardner & Halweil, 2000).
Unemployment. Feeding America’s Map of the Meal Gap (2011) shows that Latinos and African Americans are the most at risk of hunger than any other racial group because of the high unemployment rates among these households. The unemployment rate for Latinos is 13%, for African Americans, it is 15.8%, and for Whites, it is 8.5% (Feeding America, 2011).
The Meal Gap (2011) also shows that the unemployment rates for Latinos and whites are decreasing, but the unemployment rate for African Americans is increasing. These unemployment rates may be this high because of the lack of education, culture, or language needed to find a sustainable job. It may also be prejudice and discrimination that is keeping the unemployment rates high. Those who are unemployed are not able to buy health, sustainable food, thus are prone to hunger and food insecurity in their community.
Availability of Nutritious Foods. There is a limited amount of fresh food compared to other foods in markets. A research was performed from 2015 to 2017 by the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) on the supermarkets’ food and beverage availability in four selected Illinois communities (Singleton et al., 2017). These communities have the context of large percentage of low-income and African-American residents.
“Food stores had, on average, 1.8 fresh fruit and 2.9 fresh vegetable options. Almost all (97%) stores offered soda and/or fruit juice” (Singleton et al., 2017). Even when there is an abundance of food displayed on the shelves of markets, the majority of these markets seem to advertise “junk food” rather than fresh produce. Stores are appealing to the majority of the consumers who enjoy snacking on sugar rather than fruits or vegetables, thus making huge profits out of their large sales of junk food.
Conditions of Markets. Although there may be a grocery store within walking distance from a food insecure household, the victuals may not be fresh. The conditions of the grocery may be unfriendly, dirty, and disgusting (Winne, 2018). Mark Winne (2018), the co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition and program director of the Food Policy Council, describes his grocery shopping experience in Hartford, Connecticut’s low-income community grocery store as appalling and a “lost of appreciation of food.”
The store was in poor conditions, the vegetables and fruits were rotten, and the meat was messy (Winne, 2018). Low income-households are restricted to eating these foods as they are the only items available in their community (Winne, 2018). These stores may not be sanitary, welcoming, or appealing to shop in, thus losing the consumers desire to want to shop in the store and/or risking the negative effects of the improper foods (Winne, 2018).
Effects of Food Insecurity
Health Problems. Chronic diseases are the likely outcome of poor dietary intake due to being food insecure (Feeding America, 2018). Feeding America (2018) researched that common diseases from poor nutrition are diabetes, which is present in fifty-eight percent of food insecure households, and high blood pressure, which is present in thirty-three percent of food insecure households. Chronic diseases are difficult to manage because of the lack of ability to afford nutritious food (Feeding America, 2018).
A food insecure household will stress about where they will get a meal rather than what they are going to eat. In order to meet their food needs, forty percent of households do not purchase the appropriate amount of food needed for a healthy diet and seventy-nine percent of households purchase inexpensive, unhealthy food (Feeding America, 2018). Both coping strategies harm the well-being of the consumer and the chronic diseases will continue to grow and negatively affect the body since medical assistance is very difficult to acquire for these low-income households (Feeding America, 2018).
Emotional Stress. Many individuals who are suffering from food insecurity are likely to also be suffering from social problems (Health Department, 2017). It is logical to understand that the worries of not knowing where the next meal will come from or be can cause great distress for the individual. The County of Monterey Health Department (2017) expresses that Latinos who are food insecure are more likely to experience psychological distress than those who are food secure. Psychological distress can lead to social isolation, making interactions difficult to maintain and harder for the patient to express their problems due to the stigma towards mental illnesses (Health Department, 2017).
Behavior Issues. Behavioral issues are also more likely to occur to children where are food insecure form early childhood (Ames et al., 2013). Authors Ames et al. (2013) of the journal “Food Insecurity and Educational Achievement” were able to find a strong correlation between behavioral problems and hunger of a child that is food insecure. Children who were food insecure in early childhood will not have enough victuals to be able to gain sophisticated awareness, which is important to the social-emotional development of a child (Ames et al., 2013). They are more likely to develop behavioral problems in the future as they lack the knowledge of how to interact with others in a fine manner, making it difficult for them to excel in future networking and experience (Ames et al., 2013).
Academic Challenges. Food is essential for the development of a healthy brain as it provides antioxidants that help protect the brain from damage and memory loss (Ames et al., 2013). Children who are food insecure are less likely to experience academic achievements as the lack of victuals limits a child’s cognitive from early childhood (Ames et al., 2013). By using a multilevel generalized linear model, researches monitoring a third-grade class found a 13% decline in academic success in students with the context of food insecurity compared to their peers who are food secure (Ames et al., 2013). Not having the ability to follow a healthy diet put these children at a disadvantage and are predicted to experience academic challenges, harming the individual, the family, and the community (Ames et al., 2013).
I became interested in this topic from a recent conversation with my older brother, Jacob Ngo. Jacob is currently attending the University of Berkeley. When he visited the family in the summer of 2017, Jacob discussed his first year experiencing college life and college courses.
One of the courses he took was Nutrition, where he mentioned the current issue of food insecurity. He explained that being food insecure does not only mean that the individual is hungry. It could also mean that the individual is suffering from health problems, lack of medical assistance, low-income, emotional distress, and many more issues. Jacob also explained that being unhealthy may not a choice for all.
He introduced the concept of food swamps, which intrigued me. It is not completely the individual’s fault that they may be unhealthy. The type of community and environment they live in can also alter their food choices. So, with that mindset, I did further research on the effects of food swamps rather than the effects of food deserts, which is also an important factor in food insecurity. This could have altered my research results on food insecurity as I did not get enough information to balance both sides of the food insecurity spectrum.
Implications for the Future
Solutions are currently being devised to bring equity to the food insecure households. Organizations such as Feeding America (2018) carries a network of 200 food banks across the United States, feeding more than 46 million people through their work. Local food pantries are available in Salinas such as Food Bank for Monterey County and Salvation Army (Food Pantries, 2018). North Salinas High School(NSHS) have partnered with the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, making free food available to every student enrolled in NSHS.
These programs encourage students to attend school energized and focused, leading to an increase in educational opportunity and attainment (Ames et al., 2013). Ways to continue to contribute in the community are donating or volunteering at a local food bank, hosting a food drive, and/or raising awareness about food assistance programs around the area (Monterey County, 2017). If everyone were to contribute to these solutions, it is possible to promote opportunities in the community for positive change and hope for everyone.
I had an easy time choosing the topic because I wanted to research because of my prior knowledge and interest in food insecurity form a recent conversation with my older brother. Since there is a plethora of scholarly articles, books, and websites addressing the problem, the overall research was very smooth and easy. However, I felt overwhelmed by the great amount of reading since many of the sources were tedious.
There have also been cases where the source would be repeating the same information as in other sources, so I had a difficult time finding a variety of facts about food insecurity. In order to find specific information, I learned how to ask specific and precise questions on Google, which will be an important skill to know for future projects. I am now able to get the exact information I need without having to surf the web. Overall, I enjoyed this research paper as food insecurity is a topic I am interested in. I will be able to refer back to this paper if I am assigned another research paper later in the future.