Food insecurity: a nationwide problem

The American Public Square (APS) held a discussion panel at UMKC on the topic Food Insecurity last Thursday.

“Food insecurity” is a term that describes a state in which either due to lack of money or other resources, constant access to sufficient food is limited at times during the year. A food insecure household cannot always provide enough food for every person in the house to live an active, healthy life.

This is a nationwide problem and the Kansas City metro area is directly affected by it. According to the Feeding Americans Organization, in 2015, 17.9 percent of Jackson County residents were food insecure. Also in 2015, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were considered food insecure.

Panelists Valerie Nicholson-Watson, Beau Heyen, Mary K. Hendrickson and Lillian Macnell answered questions from the audience and moderator Gretchen H. Kunkel.

The first thing that was stressed was that food insecurity is not just about finances, but it’s about choosing to eat healthy when you do have a generous income.

Panelists Watson and Heyen both expressed their definitions of the topic.

“Food insecurity is about eating today but not knowing where the resources from your next meal are going to come from tomorrow,” said Watson.

“It’s about making the decision to either pay your rent or go grocery shopping,” said Heyen.

A question was asked regarding suburban areas in Kansas being directly affected by food insecurity. Panelist Heyen had an answer that shocked the entire room.

“Many citizens living in the suburban areas of Kansas think people in Wyandotte County are more food insecure. That’s not the case, research shows that people in Johnson County have twice as many people who are food insecure than in Wyandotte,” said Heyen.

The discussion got even more serious when panelists Macnell shared an example of the sacrifices food insecure families with children go through.

“You have many cases where adults aren’t eating so that their children can. Leaving parents hungry and lacking nutrition,” said Macnell.

Another question was asked in relation to what type of people are affected by food insecurity. Watson and Hendrickson had no problem in expressing the reality and truth of this question.

“Food chain workers are the most food insecure,” said Hendrickson. “We’re seeing many senior citizens who are over the age of 65 that are food insecure. The percentage of this group is consistently increasing.”

The most dangerous thing about food insecurity is the health complications that these specific families or individuals face.

“People who are food insecure have several health problems. There is physical pain, diet-related issues, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and many more,” said Macnell.

There was a revelation and solution regarding what food manufacturers do to food and what they should do instead.

“Food manufacturers have strict rules and regulations that have to be followed which is understandable. For example, when they don’t receive a #2 potato they have to dispose of it. When the food isn’t perfect in the manufacturer’s eyes, then it goes to waste,” said Watson. “Why waste food when people need it?”

When the audience thought they’d heard it all, one of the panelists gave another shocking statement.

“Some kids who visit my company have never seen a raw potato because they’re so used to eating french fries. Nutritional foods aren’t being cooked in their homes because their parents simply can’t afford it,” said Heyen.

When a question arose about income being a huge factor of food insecurity, another example was given.

“People are buying pre-made foods to cook so their gas bill won’t exceed beyond what they can afford to pay,” said Macnell. “Income plays a big role when it comes to this problem and even I didn’t realize it was this serious.”

“What is the government doing about food insecurity?” an attendee asked.

“There are many food programs sponsored by the government such as SNAP, WIC, and many others. These programs are beneficial and resourceful to millions of Americans. It is important to ensure that federal feeding programs remain available. If not, the food insecurity percentage will increase,” said Watson.

“What can be done about people who can afford healthy foods but don’t know how to cook them?” an audience member asked. “It’s up to federal feeding programs, food pantries, and other feeding programs to make easy recipes available to the consumers. It’s our job for people like the fellow panelists and myself to provide nutrition education so people can learn how to cook healthy foods,” said Watson.

Many people in attendance wanted solutions to this ongoing problem. Although there is no solid resolution, the panelists, and many others like them, are doing their best to decrease and hopefully diminish food insecurity.

“The motto at my company is to feed hungry people today and end hunger tomorrow,” said Watson. “I think everyone on this stage can agree that in one way or another, that’s the motto for all of us.”

mtjgxb@mail.umkc.edu

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