Food insecurity is often an overlooked term when it comes to defining hunger and poverty and how they interact. Hunger is the word most often used as a blanket term to describe any and all aspects of a lack of food and its effects. However, the two are not as interchangeable as you would think.
Hunger is typically defined as “the want or scarcity of food”. In other words, hunger is a persistent lack of food access, no matter what that food may be. Food insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food”. This definition is more specific in that it singles out nutritious and affordable food rather than just any and all kinds of food.
This is an important distinction to make because a lack of food and a lack of nutritious food have different effects and come from different conditions. It is important to understand these effects and conditions in order to see the root of the problem. Hunger, as we discussed previously, typically leads to malnourishment and starvation. Food insecurity can also lead to these things, but is often shown in a different way.
How many times have you heard someone say that America can’t possibly have a hunger problem because of all of the obesity? While some cases of obesity can be attributed to a poor diet and laziness, a significant portion of the obese population are food insecure and are experiencing the effects of food insecurity. Those that are food insecure may eat as many calories a day as someone who has access to nutritional, healthy foods, yet because they are eating foods that are typically processed and lack any nutritional value at all, those that are food insecure often experience the same malnutrition that someone experiencing hunger would. Eating these processed foods that have no nutrition leads to obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses that are often just as severe as the effects of hunger.
So why are some food insecure as opposed to just being hungry? A big contributing factor to food insecurity is the existence of food deserts. A food desert, typically found in both urban and occasionally rural areas, is an area where it is difficult to access healthy, affordable foods. For example, you don’t find many big chain supermarkets in New York, but you do find a lot of convenience stores that are full of cheap, processed foods. If there are supermarkets in New York, they are typically way more expensive than their suburban counterparts. These conditions lead to a food desert where all an individual has access to are convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and other sources of food that are all processed and lack nutrients.
Food insecurity can be an effect of poverty and can also be a cause of hunger should it escalate. In this sense, it is a very unique concept that we can continue to explore and define.
In next week’s post we will sum up what we have learned about hunger, poverty, and food insecurity as well as how they interact with and influence each other.
written by Gabrielle Miller