About Food Insecurity

The US has a great deal of food insecurity, which means that people live in households without consistent access to adequate food.

Millions of Americans continue to worry about the next meal: either because they cannot afford it or because food is not locally available. This article presents alarming facts:

  • Overall, food insecurity ranges from 4-36% by county.
  • Child insecurity ranges from 6-40% by county.
  • However, food insecurity is found everywhere. A county may have high average food security (e.g., Los Angeles County), but have population segments with high rates of food insecurity.
  • Food insecurity is often correlated with other negative indicators such as high unemployment, higher than average poverty rates, and/or lower than average home ownership.
  • In 2016, 25% of the people who were food insecure were unlikely to qualify for most federal nutrient programs.
  • USDA estimates that 41 million people are food insecure.
  • USDA estimates that 13 million children are food insecure.
  • One in eight individuals live in a US household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • One in six children live in a household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • Rural counties are 69% of all US counties but represent 79% of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.
  • 85% of counties with high child food insecurity are rural.
  • Rural Insecurity is especially concentrated in the Southern part of the US.
  • Two states that I particularly track are Oklahoma and California. Oklahoma has the 7th highest rate (22.7%) and California has the 20th highest rate (19%) of child food insecurity.
  • $3.00 is the national average meal cost. However, this cost varies across geographies. Some counties have lower average costs. Other counties, which tend to be found in metropolitan areas, have higher meal costs (e.g., average meal costs in Manhattan, New York County, are $5.70).
  • A food secure person is estimated to spend $273 on food per month.
  • There is an increase health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and disabilities in the most food insecure areas.

This article begs a few questions:

  • For example, these statistics were derived when the economy (assessed by traditional measures) is robust; however, what are the projections for food insecurity during an economic downturn?
  • What are the projections for food insecurity if California’s focus on water sustainability results in a decrease in supply or an increase in costs for domestically grown fresh fruits and vegetables?
  • The article is silent about the source of food. Is food security estimated solely on the ability to purchase food? In some areas of the country, particularly in rural areas, people produce their own food or barter for food. It is unclear whether this food source is considered.

Map the Meal, A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecutiy and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016. Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/research/map-the-meal-gap/2016/2016-map-the-meal-gap-all-modules.pdf

2012 National Locally-Grown Food

The Local Food Movement Is Growing Up: 

  • 163,600 farms were engaged in local food sector across the country
  • $6.1 billion in locally grown food was sold
  • 2006-2014 – the number of farmers markets jumped from 180% to 8,260 markets
  • > 4,300 school districts spent > $385 million on local food thru farm-to-school programs
  • > 135 operational food hubs now move local food from farmers to meet wholesale, retail and institutional customers

Harden, Krysta. The Local Food Movement Is Growing Up. Modesto Bee. March 4, 2015. http://www.modbee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article11961647.html

Reposted from March 07, 2015 8:05am Facebook Post

CSA Is Rooted in Black History

“As early as the 1960s and 1970s, deep in the heart of Alabama, the concept of community supported agriculture was developing as the brainchild of Booker T. Whatley, a pioneer of sustainable agriculture.

Booker T. Whatley was born in 1915 in Anniston, Alabama.  He grew up when there were nearly one million black farmers. He watched as black farms began to decline and family farms struggled to compete. He studied agriculture at Alabama A&M University, then, he served in the Korean War and was assigned a 55-acre hydroponic farm to provide food for the troops. He returned for a doctorate in horticulture and began his career at Tuskegee University.  

He “advocated for regenerative farming, a sustainable and organic farming method that focuses on regenerating soil and maximizing biodiversity, and is a method that can be traced back to another Tuskegee legend, Dr. George Washington Carver. But Dr. Whatley also strongly believed in regenerating farmer livelihoods through direct marketing, and he began advocating for Pick Your Own farms and what he called Clientele Membership Clubs.”

Bowens, Natasha. Mother Earth News. CSA Is Rooted in Black History. February, 13, 2015https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/csas-rooted-in-black-history-zbcz1502

Reposted from Feb 14, 2015 11:14am Facebook Post

Celebrating Agricultural Abundance

Volumes have been written about our current food system. Some schools of thought allege it is broken. Others claim it is a modern miracle.

Opinions fly on social media, blogs and in journals about the pros and cons of food production and consumption, such as:

  • Conventional versus Organic/Sustainable/Biodynamic agricultural production systems,
  • Grain fed versus Grass-fed beef,
  • Dairy milk versus almond milk,
  • Merits (or evils) of GMO technology,
  • Urban needs for Permaculture/Vertical Agriculture/Aquaculture, 
  • The value of Local Agriculture:
    • Know your farmer,
    • Farmer’s Market, 
    • CSA (Consumer Sponsored Agriculture) 
    • U-Picks. 

For a while, as an agriculturist, I actively participated in the online discussion (and debates) and tried to educate my non-farming friends. For example, I would explain to proponents of organic Ag that pesticides are used. I would share information about GMO technologies. I would talk about what would happen to our rangelands without active herbivore grazing. The list goes on. 

It occurred to me that the discussions didn’t seem to be so much about food production; but rather, were about food consumption. It was not as if there wasn’t enough food. No, There was plenty. None of my friends or family were malnourished. They all had sufficient calories.  In fact, many were concerned about being overweight. The discussions had inherent sub-texts.  It seemed my friends and family were concerned about managing potential risks and making the best decisions possible for their health and, maybe, as a side note, for the environment, too. 

Then! I had an Ah-ha moment! One day, I realized our discussions were about actually about the food choices we have the luxury to make because we live with such incredible food availability, abundance, and immediacy. All of which we take for granted.  As Susanne Elizabeth Freidberg writes in Fresh, A Perishable History,

“For well-off consumers in well-off countries, choosing has become one of the hardest parts of eating. Is it best to buy organic? Local? Free-range? Omega-3-enhanced?

Yet most of the world’s consumers do not face the so-called omnivore’s dilemma. Such choice depends on having enough money as well as access to a myriad of modern technologies. Even seemingly antimodern consumer movements – the raw milk  underground, community-supported agriculture, locavores – rely on highways (paved and informational) [modes of transportation or refrigeration] that cant be taken for granted everywhere.

From that moment of “Ah-Ha!”, I stopped (or tried to stop) participating in the pro/con discussion of various food production or distribution systems, and started Celebrating our Agricultural Abundance

My friends, family and I are extremely fortunate to live at this point in time and place and to be able to make active choices about what we eat. Through our choices we embody a form of empowerment for change, or conversely, for tradition. Hopefully, we will remain diligent in protecting our ability to make those choices. 

Of course, there is always room for improvement:

  • As an industry, agriculture needs to be more protective of our environment, while simultaneously remaining solvent and viable.
  • As a society, we need to ensure that our children, elderly and poor have access to nourishment, regardless of where they are located.
  • As a nation, we need to ensure a resilient food supply, which is capable of withstanding the whims of politics or nature.
  • As an amalgamated culture, we can use our shared food histories as a vehicle for civil dialog about civil rights for all.