Today, there are more than 48.8 million Americans (including 13 million children and 5 million seniors) struggling with food insecurity, according to Feeding America and the USDA. Poverty in America is the leading cause, with more than 40 million people currently living below the poverty line (over half end up being children—many of whom depend on schools for a daily meal).
According to USDA statistics: “Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, among households with children headed by single parents (35.1% of female-headed households with children are food-insecure), and among Black and Hispanic households.
“Food insecurity is most common in large cities, but still exists in rural areas, suburbs, and other outlying areas around large cities—25% of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure.
‘The typical (median) food-secure household spent 27% more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition.”
Food insecurity refers to the USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active life for all members of the household—and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Some of those households will make tradeoffs on basic needs of medicine, medical bills, or house payments in order to purchase adequate food for their families.
The government (USDA) sets the guidelines that allow for monetary or program support by income levels. Based on income levels against the poverty range, nutrition programs may be of assistance—programs such as SNAP or WIC, for example. The 2015 federal poverty level was set at $24,250 for a four-person household.
Overall (USDA): “59% of food-insecure households reported that in the previous month, they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs: SNAP (formerly food stamps), School Lunch, and WIC.”
In West Virginia (statewide) more than 276,000 people are food insecure, based on 2015 data from FeedingAmerica.org. Statistics for Berkeley and Jefferson Counties (2015 data) reveal that food insecurity in Berkeley County is at 12.5%, with 13,610 individuals currently food-insecure. For Jefferson County, the food insecurity rate sits at 10.8% (5,950 individuals). The numbers for Morgan County land at 12.7% (2,210 individuals).
Solutions? (Stop throwing it away.) According to the USDA, 27% of all food produced in the U.S. each year is lost at the retail, consumer, and food service levels (i.e., we throw away around 263 million pounds of food per day—which still doesn’t account for food left in the fields or discarded before delivery). That equals 1.5 tons of food per year for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. facing hunger.
Another solution proving successful is “gleaning.” In 2015, more than 32,000 volunteers gleaned nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest. More than 16 million pounds of fresh food was provided to those in need.
Staying informed, volunteering, and gifting financial assistance to local food banks, along with social activism, also helps. FeedingAmerica.org, No Kid Hungry, and West Virginia’s local Mountaineer Food Bank are just some of the leading organizations striving to end hunger in this region, as well as globally.
— Diane Whitacre is a freelance writer and resident of Jefferson County.By Diane Whitacre