Initial thoughts on food insecurity and food policy

After doing quite a bit of scholarly reading to start off the first week of my independent study on food policy, I’m now starting to sense the complexity involved in tackling the problem of food insecurity. The problem is widespread and has a variety of health-related outcomes that pose an increasing threat to our health system. One particular statistic noted that for those who meet federal poverty guidelines, 35% identify as food insecure. With a variety of definitions of “food insecurity” floating around in the academic literature and policy venues, it is a bit difficult to know exactly what this means. A number of articles made reference to social capital and community connectedness as significant factors influencing food insecurity, and while I remember talking about this construct in my public health class and in prior blog postings, I also remember recognizing that operationalizing social capital can be extremely difficult. In similar light, I was pleased with the Larson & Story (2011) literature review that I read that noted that studies are increasingly examining the potential influence of local availability of retail food stores and farmers’ markets, access to public transportation, social capital, and family structure as interconnected determinants of food insecurity. Bernell, Weber, and Edwards (2006) also highlight this notion in their piece, which was my favorite read. They suggest that there are 3 primary levels of determinants of food insecurity: household level (personal choices about marriage or child bearing that increase vulnerability), state level (wages, unemployment, costs of living), and federal level (federally funded programs, like food stamps). However, less considered in the research and an area to which I’d like to devote my own attention, is that of community level factors, like county-level economic opportunity, social programs, and conditions that lead to food insecurity. I agree with these authors that food insecurity is much more than a problem arising from individual choices. The local community food security infrastructure, which includes elements like housing and social support, significantly affects the likelihood of families experiencing food insecurity. Pulling all of these levels apart to understand how they interplay is a daunting task, though.

More broadly, I have a number of thoughts as I begin my work for this summer’s independent, particularly in consideration of the work that I’m doing on another CCA-related grant project related to African Americans and heart health. After being exposed to the tribulations and rewards of working with community stakeholders in an under-privileged setting, as part of a project much farther along on the community sustainability continuum than where we left off with the “voices of hunger” project, I’ve grown extremely anxious to see what could come of our coalition-building efforts with the food insecure in this area. I see similarities in how the problem of heart health in the African American population from Lake and Marion county and food insecurity here in Tippecanoe county are discursively framed and positioned by those experiencing the marginalization and those working with the marginalized. Just like the community organizers in the heart health project, Food Finders employees must actively manage their roles as liaisons among multiple stakeholders that often have conflicting wants and needs when it comes to project initiation and development. Similarly, however, I also feel a sense of true passion and commitment from these individuals to improving the lives of those around them. Both the food insecure and the marginalized African Americans share stories of access barriers, under-managed policies, and disenfranchisement in the spaces where their voices have a right to be heard. In this, I’m growing increasingly fond of the quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”


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