Food Security and Insecurity in USA Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


Hunger and the issue of food security vs. food insecurity represent two distinct issues in America. Hunger is the physical outcome of not having access to food. Food security refers to both the financial and social conditions that limit or restrict access to food for individuals or for a population overall (USDA, 2018). Food insecurity refers to the reduced quality or quantity of food available for all—i.e., quality food scarcity or disrupted diet patterns would qualify as food insecurity (USDA, 2018). The latter are typically due to economic situations, such as personal poverty. As Coleman-Jensen, Rabbit, Gregory and Singh (2018) show, approximately 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure, or roughly 40 million Americans, about a quarter of whom are children. The primary outcome of food insecurity is hunger at the individual level, which weakens one’s physiological condition. Thus, food insecurity is viewed as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” (USDA, 2018). When households lack the money to acquire food for the whole household in a consistent manner, that household is said to be suffering from food insecurity. When a population suffers from food insecurity, that population is said to have a food security issue. In the U.S., there are many different geographical regions where populations are negatively impacted by food insecurity. This paper will discuss the issue of food security and insecurity in the U.S., by geography, show who is affected, and what can be done about it.

What Causes Food Insecurity?

While hunger is often a result of food insecurity, it is not the same thing: hunger refers to the physical discomfort that comes from not eating; food insecurity refers to the lack of financial or economic resources for acquiring food for oneself or one’s family consistently over time. One never knows if there will be food for all to eat, or when the next time the family can eat will be. The situation is precarious and thus insecure for the household.

Poverty is directly related to food insecurity, as it is believed that there is a direct correlation between poverty and food insecurity in the U.S. (Bhattacharya, Currie & Haider, 2004; Renwick, 2011). According to Renwick (2011), “official poverty rates are more highly correlated with the rate of food insecurity” (p. 12). This means that by mapping poverty rates across states in the U.S., one can obtain a sense of where food insecurity is most likely to occur.

Coleman-Jensen, Rabbit, Gregory and Singh (2016) note that “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources” (p. 7). Even though there are food assistance programs offered by the USDA, which aim to increase food security, these programs are not always utilized, which is more than 12% of Americans annually suffer from food insecurity. This does not mean that they are going hungry, however. As Coleman-Jensen et al. (2016) show, the amount of food that is being consumed may not be diminished in these households. What is diminished, though, is the amount of quality food and access to quality food. Low-income and poverty level houses will use food stamps to buy cheap, pre-packaged food or junk food—food that is neither healthy nor wholesome and use these to fill out one’s diet. The result is poor diet and the risk of obesity. Thus, it is not uncommon to see people suffering from food insecurity also suffering from obesity. In fact Adams, Grummer-Strawn and Chavez (2003) have found just that among California women, where food insecurity has been associated with increased risk of obesity. As Voigt (2014) also shows by using records from the U.S. Census and State of Obesity: “the 10 poorest states by median income correlate strongly with the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity.” So while poverty may be causing food insecurity, it is not necessarily causing hunger. On the contrary, it is more likely to lead to obesity—and the geographical context of the U.S. shows this is true: the poorest states in America are also the fattest.

Food Insecurity by Region in the U.S.

A food desert is a part of the country that has poor access to nutritious, healthy and affordable food. These deserts often exist in some of the poorest parts of the country. To supplement diets, people in food deserts turn to junk food, which in turn increases their risk of becoming obese. The 10 poorest and most obese states in the U.S. are Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama and South Carolina. However, income is not the only factor in determining health. Access to public recreation is also a factor—and in poor communities there is not going to be a great deal of access to public recreation, primarily because those parts of the country lack the funds from tax revenues to support public recreation maintenance or installation (Perdue, 2008).

Singh, Kogan and van Dyck (2008) found that in geographical terms, “the prevalence of childhood obesity varied substantially across geographic areas, with the Southcentral regions of the US having the highest prevalence (?18%) and the Mountain region the lowest prevalence (11.4%)” (p. 90). Geography is an important variable in predicting food insecurity because it not only will tell something about socioeconomic status but also about culture. Culture plays a large role in shaping how one spends resources on food and what food one spends resources on. It is possible to still have a healthy diet if one is using food stamps, however, culture influences choices and the choices that people in poverty make tend to be informed by cultures that do not consider the consequences of eating a poor diet. Culture and geography are as intertwined as socioeconomic status and geography.

As Voigt shows, nonetheless, socioeconomic status will ultimately determine the type of culture that a community cultivates, which in turn impacts food insecurity rates and health outcomes. “Socioeconomic status largely determines obesity: not having places to be more physically active, not having access to safe parks, living in places where fruits and vegetables are more expensive”—it all contributes to the level of food insecurity that a person or household may experience (Voigt, 2014). The less emphasis a community places on food security and health, the less likely it is to offer community members appropriate access to either.

The South is…

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…Box, KFC, Taco Bell, and Dairy Queen (Nicole, 2017). The fact that people who have low income and rely on food stamps to get access to food are allowed to use those stamps to purchase fast food shows that there is a cultural problem at the heart of the food insecurity problem in America.

People who are in the government should know better than to allow food stamps to be used in this way. They should be making it illegal for fast food chains to take EBT cards and they should be banning fast food chains for the most part because they are inherently unhealthy for everyone. Instead the government should be focusing on instituting higher quality food stores in every region of the country so that people who have EBT cards can shop at places like Whole Foodss and get good deals on organic foods. Or they could go to shops like Panera Bread and have better meals made for them from organic food items.

The government should not be allowing food stamps to be used on fast food but they do because they mistakenly believe that alleviating hunger is the same thing as solving the problem of food insecurity. It is not. Food insecurity is not just about hunger—it is about having access to quality food—i.e., food that is healthy for one. Fast food is not healthy for anyone and poor people are mistakenly given the impression that it is okay for them to consume it. They would be better served by being given access to stores and restaurants that serve quality meals.

Of course, that means that the health literacy for both government officials and for people of low socioeconomic backgrounds has to improve. This is where schools and health care providers have to come in to boost the health literacy for all populations. By raising awareness about how cheap fast food is bad for one’s health, both legislators and people in the community could be made more mindful about the dangers of patronizing fast food restaurants like the ones stated above that take food stamps. They could be made aware of the problems of pre-packaged foods. Community members could stop buying both and legislators could create laws that deny both the right from being produced. If drugs are going to be criminalized because they are bad for people, fast food and cheap pre-packaged food should be criminalized as well since it is just as bad for people and prevents them from having food security: they go to those places thinking it will fix their hunger—but it only worsens the problem of food insecurity.


Food insecurity in the U.S.A. is not the same as the problem of hunger but people wrongly think it is. Hunger refers to the problem of the physical symptom of not eating. Food insecurity refers to the problem of not having access to quality, healthy food. Fast food and pre-packaged food is given to people of low socioeconomic backgrounds as though this solves the problem of food security. In effect, it worsens it. Whites tends to have more food security than blacks because the system is inherently racist, which is why it…

Sources Used in Document:


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