Right now, 1 in 9 of our neighbors is at risk of hunger, including nearly 65,000 children. This risk means they are food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
People from all walks of life can become food insecure, and many will find themselves in need at some point during their lifetime. In West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, many neighbors are just one job loss or medical crisis away from not having enough to eat. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how close many of us are to being in need: 1 in 5 U.S. residents sought help from a charitable food provider at some point during the pandemic.
Why Food Insecurity Exists
The causes of food insecurity are complex but some reasons that lead neighbors to be in need include:
Like an ecosystem, Michigan’s food system is made up of many parts—including the government, farmers and consumers. They all must work together for the food system to function properly. When prices rise, government support isn’t sufficient or another disruption occurs, the system falls out of balance. These disruptions mean that, sometimes, the food people need can’t make its way through the system and get to them as it should.
The majority of people served by Feeding America West Michigan self-identify as low-income or as having a disability which has put them in the position of needing food assistance. The majority of food-insecure neighbors live in a household where at least one member is employed. Those who aren’t are usually retired or not working due to a disability. This means that many neighbors hold jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet, or that pay just enough to live paycheck to paycheck. In the latter situation, one unexpected expense can rob them of their self-sufficiency.
Lack of Access to Nutritious Choices
Food security is about more than having enough food; it’s also about having enough nourishing food. The ability to access a variety of nourishing yet affordable food is a bit like a power grid. Just like we need a power grid that delivers electricity to all the parts of our country, we also need a grid that allows a wide variety of nutritious foods to move to all parts of our country. Right now, that grid is well-developed in some areas and patchy or even non-existent in others. In rural and low-income urban regions, nutritious food coverage is often “patchy”—when nutritious options are available, they’re costly, inaccessible or both.
What Happens When a Neighbor is Food Insecure?
- Neighbors may be anxious about where their next meal is coming from. Even if not experienced every day, this uncertainty is a negative experience, especially for children. Their and ability to focus in school may suffer as a result.
- Neighbors may be forced to choose options that don’t meet their nutritional needs, whether due to affordability or access. Neighbors living in food-insecure households have 18 percent more diseases than those who are food secure.
- Neighbors may run out of food before they can buy more. If put in this situation, they may be forced to skip meals. Tough choices like these can have devastating effects—high blood pressure, lack of concentration, severe depression and more.
Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of food produced in North America goes to waste.
Food waste occurs at every stage of the food system—from the farm to the dinner table. Reasons for food waste include bumper crops, package misprints, storage and transportation issues, imperfect aesthetics, over-ordering and, of course, in-home and restaurant waste.
In the process of fighting hunger, Feeding America West Michigan keeps millions of pounds of good food from going to waste. Much of this food would have ended up in a landfill without the food bank’s intervention. No other organization in our region is able to address local hunger and food waste on such a large scale.