Ending Food Insecurity Means ‘All of Taking Care of All of Us’
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
What is food insecurity and how do we help stop it?
“Before White Pony Express, my family ate Top Ramen noodles three times a day for the last week of every month. Now we have really good food all month long and a variety we could not have imagined!”
—White Pony Express Recipient
The United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity afflicted 10.5% of American households. Its pervasiveness has only grown since, more than doubling to an estimated 23% of households. For households with children, this is an even greater issue, with about 27.5% to 29.5% facing food insecurity as of June 2020. Food insecurity is also far from a distinctly American epidemic.
"The problem is hardly unique to the U.S. According to the United Nations World Food Program, the global pandemic has the chance to double the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity, from 135 million in 2019 to 265 million in 2020." [NPR -"Food Insecurity in The U.S. By The Numbers"]
California is a prime example of food insecurity among U.S. states. Approximately 40% of low-income adult Californians are not able to buy enough food, according to the state government. Additionally, 1 in 4 children experience food insufficiency. Data from the California Association of Food Banks indicate that around eight million Californians are uncertain about when and where they will next obtain their next meal—something so fundamentally essential to their survival.
Furthermore, food insecurity is as intersectional as it is an individual lived experience. Black households experience food insecurity at nearly twice the rate as white households, and the same can be said for Hispanic Americans.
It’s important to note, however, that food insecurity within the U.S. is not a product of limited supply relative to demand. In reality, 30-40% of all food produced is wasted each year, and just 30% of that food waste is estimated to be enough to cover the total dietary needs of every hungry person in the country.
Establishing community-based food rescue and distribution channels is vital to ensuring abundance meets need wherever it resides. Ultimately, the crux of the problem is distribution, not supply.
Educating ourselves about these very real issues and the very real people whom they impact is the first step in stopping hunger.
The true price: The cost to end hunger
Hunger and food insecurity have a number of root causes. According to a report conducted by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in 2014, these can be boiled down to governance, economic and production issues, demographic and social issues, and climate/environment.
Governance encapsulates obstacles related to policy-making, accountability, and high-level political priorities. Economic and production issues describe phenomena like poverty, unequal and inequitable distribution of resources, and food waste. Continued marginalization of already vulnerable populations, vast demographic changes that perpetuate social inequality, and the social determinants of malnutrition (e.g., lack of access to safe, clean drinking water) fall under the category of demographic and social issues. Lastly, the unsustainable deprivation of natural resources and climate change’s effects on agriculture exemplify climate/environment issues that contribute to food insecurity.
In that same report, the CFS outlined the four pillars of food security.
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability. The nutritional dimension is integral to the concept of food security and to the work of CFS.” [CFS — CFS Reform Document 2009]
At White Pony Express, we strive to build community resilience through these pillars. Our approach can be aptly compared to the CFS’s “twin-track” model, which is composed of direct action (addressing the immediate needs of those in need) and tackling the structural and societal underpinnings of food insecurity (knowledge creation and education). These two tracks are “connected” by joint action at White Pony!
The cost to end hunger isn’t quantifiable. It constitutes action, effort, and time at every level of influence. Still, the ability to address it resides in each one of us.
Neighbors helping neighbors:
Ending hunger in the community
All positive change begins locally. White Pony Express serves Contra Costa County in California, which in 2018 had a food insecurity rate of 11.1%. This translates to about 128,000 food insecure people in the county—a data point that has embarked on a treacherous journey upwards to in the past eighteen months. Now facing a food insecurity rate of 21.2%, Contra Costa County houses more than 244,000 residents suffering from hunger.
To take individual action, look into community mobilization and volunteer opportunities if you are passionate about facilitating an end to food insecurity. If you have the time, your skills are needed.
Resources for fighting food insecurity include ChangeEX, a website that hosts tens of thousands of independent community projects intended to produce meaningful change, and Project Drawdown, which focuses specifically on innovative, sustainable solutions for a brighter future.
All in all, ending hunger in our community wouldn't be possible without the compassion and enthusiasm of community members. White Pony Express thanks all of its awe-inspiring volunteers and encourages you to find ways to engage with your community. If you're local to Contra Costa County, we hope to see you here!
Progress unfurls outwards from the epicenter of individual care and action. Food insecurity is a broad-sweeping issue experienced by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, but there are also millions of hands ready to help, and millions of ears ready to listen. We’ve witnessed this firsthand at White Pony Express, and we’re excited to keep sharing our story with you!
Read about the experience of one of our recipients.
“I volunteer at WPE to help the community and affect and improve people's lives. As a community, we work to help one another. We all look out for each other and work together.”
—Shaya, High School Student and Food Rescue Volunteer