In November, it is a tradition for family and friends in the United States to gather to commemorate the first Thanksgiving. Food Banks solicit donations and meal staples are generously distributed to those in need. This generosity is based on the notion that such giving, by families with abundance, will help the hungry meet their nutritional needs.
While charitable, this notion is fundamentally misguided. That is not to say that people should not be giving. But, food insecurity is a systemic problem that is experienced all year, and often year after year. It exists in every state, every county, and every city.
The impacts are very real, both for the people experiencing hunger and broader society. A leading non-profit on food insecurity, Feeding America, states that “people facing hunger must make tough choices between buying food and medical bills, food and rent and/or food and transportation.”
Hunger can lead to chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and severe physical and mental stress. Seniors are especially vulnerable to these health risks. In children, it can delay development, lead to behavioral problems, and impact academic achievement. As they grow into adulthood, this may significantly reduce access to economic opportunities and self-sufficiency.
Federal programs dating back to the early 1930s were established to address food insecurity. Not all people meet the guidelines. Even those who qualify may not have access to healthful food or be aware of the health effects of inexpensive, unhealthy food options.
The STAR Community Rating System provides local governments a means of addressing these issues in HS-4: Food Access and Nutrition and by Leading Indicators Food Security and Assistance and Access to Healthful Food.
Of the 63 communities certified under Version 1.2 of the STAR Community Rating System, the top quarter with the highest points (out of 15 total available) in the HS-4 objective were:
- Cambridge, MA (15 points)
- Baltimore, MD (14.59)
- Washington, DC (13.17)
- Seattle, WA (12.74)
- Evanston, IL (12.34)
- Memphis-Shelby County, TN (12.15)
- Austin, TX (12.09)
- Portland, OR (11.90)
- Indianapolis, IN (11.77)
- Tucson, AZ (11.77)
- Cleveland, OH (11.46)
- Fayetteville, AR (11.45)
- Lawrence, KS (11.45)
- Raleigh, NC (11.45)
- Winston-Salem, NC (11.45)
- Kansas City, MO (11.12)
Gaining a high score in an objective does not mean that no hunger or food insecurity exists in a jurisdiction. However, it does indicate that a combination of outcome achievement and substantial policies, programs, and other actions are taking place in the community.
For example, the City of Baltimore conducted an assessment of the barriers to developing and operating grocery stores in areas with low access to healthful foods. This led to the Food Desert Retail Strategy that includes a property tax credit for locating in grocery store incentive areas. They also have a Resident Food Equity Advisors initiative that engages people most affected by food security in visioning and implementation of food policies.
Other community initiatives, like Lawrence’s Double Up Food Bucks program, offer an incentive on purchases at farmer’s markets made via federal food programs, such as SNAP or WIC. Mobile food markets, like this one in Memphis, that bring food to areas without access are an innovative solution, as are Healthy Corner Store initiatives that bring produce and healthy choices to area markets, like the DC Central Kitchen initiative.
Another action, not fully addressed in STAR Version 2.0, is managing food waste. According to the USDA, food waste is estimated to be between 30 to 40% of the U.S. food supply. Roughly 31 percent of food is lost at the retail and consumer levels. This means that healthy food is often being sent to the landfill rather than being served on the plate.
The consequences of this are actually far reaching. The processes to create the food (production, transportation, storage, etc) use resources that cannot be reclaimed. Further, landfills are the third largest source of methane in the United States. Food waste, the single largest component going into municipal landfills, generates methane, a greenhouse gas emission. If your local government is doing something about food waste in your community or you have a great idea for how this issue could be addressed at the local level, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.