Thursday, April 26, 2012

Food Security: Access

I didn't really expect this to become a series... but sometimes topics choose you. ;-)

When I wrote about my thoughts on Food Security yesterday, both Voie de Vie and AC mentioned they thought I would be talking about access to food, not safety of food.  It's interesting how one word can mean different things.

In the US, we like to think we are a wealthy country and that everyone has access to what ever they want, as long as they work hard enough.

In some ways that's true and certainly we are a very wealthy country.  But in no way are all of us wealthy and in no way do all of us have access to what we want or even need... no matter how hard we work.

We have large groups of poor people, of extremely poor people and of homeless people.  Perhaps they aren't obviously sleeping on the streets or in slums as I saw when I visited India years ago.  But that reality does exist in the US... check out Skid Row in Los Angeles next time you're there... or visit one of the pueblos in New Mexico... or just walk around the student ghetto near your favorite university.  It's easy to see that poverty is a big problem in the US and with that, access to quality food.

As I see it, this food scarcity manifests in two ways... ability to pay for it and ability to find it.  Often times it's a combination of both.

There are what has become known as food deserts here in the US... as in, the food is just not available, whether or not one has the ability to pay for it.  I was under the impression that these were primarily in poor, urban areas.  But this searchable map prepared by the USDA shows a very different story.  The pink areas are considered Food Deserts.

Food Desert Map source:

I find the picture quite striking.  That's a lot of pink.  Which means there are huge areas of population that have no or limited access to quality food.
On a news program last night they said that the US throws away about 40% of the food it generates.  That's staggering especially since they also said that ~50 million Americans (~16%) have food scarcity issues.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do think that quantifying the problem is a good first step.


Voie de Vie said...

That's funny - I guess some topics do pick up, don't they? :)

Look at the concentrations of pink - it's all about the south and the wide open spaces of the West. You can find examples of pockets of food security right in your own backyard (and don't forget reservation areas).

Quantification is one good step (which I did some of in Montana). Humanizing the problem is another. For a great short story on this (from a dumpster diving perspective), read Lars Eighner's "On Dumpster Diving." He's an on-again, off-again homeless person who has won writing awards for his series on homeless living with his dog. I taught this short story at every opportunity - in one course I then sent students home to keep a weekend diary of all the food they threw out. Eye-opening. :)

Great on you for hearing the call of the topic.

Voie de Vie said...

And of course I meant "insecurity" above. :)

Kathryn Ray said...

Having lived in New Mexico for a time, I saw up close the poverty some of the reservations experience.

Humanizing is a great step too.

Thanks for the info on Lars Eighner's story... I will look it up.

Vivian said...

Having first hand experience with starvation, America (in general) is food heaven. However, Americans (in general) are not good at making food choices.