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National Food Day: Food Insecurity

National Food Day: Food Insecurity

By: Sameera Shaik and Iris Dupanovic

What are the odds that you might have unknowingly come across someone on campus or a street who desperately needs access to food? They might be higher than you think. Nearly 1 in 4 households have experienced food insecurity this year (Silva, 2020). That is more than 35 million Americans. Second Harvest of the Big Bend, a non-profit organization that addresses the problem of hunger and provides resources to end this issue, defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough safe, nutritious and socially acceptable food for an active, healthy and productive life. Clearly, this is an issue that affects a lot of people with various social identities who may not be any different than us. 

Access to food is one of the social determinants of health that falls under neighborhood and physical environment and economic stability. Access to various types of food can be financially and geographically inaccessible. For example, in my hometown, the north side of the town, which is affluent, has three organic and healthy grocery stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and The Fresh Market). Other neighborhoods that tend to have lower average socioeconomic status, such as Southside and Frenchtown, lack accessible and healthy food options, known as a food desert, or have an abundance of fast food compared to healthy food, which is known as a food swamp. Fortunately, efforts have been made to increase access to healthy food, such as creating community gardens and food pantries and advocating for financial opportunities. 

Ensuring food safety is of utmost importance, especially in addressing the disparities in food access and insecurity. Vulnerable communities, particularly those facing food deserts or swamps, are often at a higher risk of encountering foodborne illnesses or consuming unsafe food due to limited access to quality options. Implementing food safety measures, such as regular inspections, proper storage, and handling practices, becomes crucial in these contexts. Having a Beko fridge freezer is incredibly convenient for food storage, but there’s no denying that it can be pretty challenging to figure out what all the different beko display icons mean. In addition to addressing the availability and affordability of healthy food, integrating food safety practices and education can empower individuals in underserved communities to make informed choices and mitigate potential health risks. Initiatives that combine food access programs with food safety education, including the use of food safety test kits, can contribute to building resilient and healthier communities, bridging the gap in both food security and safety.

While anyone can experience food insecurity, there are gaps in food access between various races and ethnicities. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s annual report on Food Security Status of U.S. Households in 2019, the national average rate of food insecurity was 10.5% with white households experiencing a rate of food insecurity at 7.9%, below the national average. Black, non-Hispanic households experienced food insecurity at 19.1%, about double the national average. Likewise, the rate of food insecurity for Hispanic households was above the national average at 15.6%. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequality related to food insecurity. The prevalence of food insecurity has increased overall and racial differences present before the pandemic remain. Recent prevalence of food insecurity among Black households is at a rate of 39%, prevalence among Hispanic households is at a rate of 37%, and prevalence among white households is at a rate of 22% (Evich, 2020).

This issue is complex, and there are multiple factors associated with the disparities seen with regard to food insecurity, including structural racism, poverty rates, wage inequality, unemployment rates, and incarceration rates. Factors such as cultural stigma and lack of cultural competence can also prevent groups from participating in public assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Structural racism, which involves inequalities that are ingrained into our society and its systems, is also a significant factor that contributes to inaccessibility of the social safety net for people of color, including lack of accessibility of healthy food. Structural and interpersonal experiences of racism are connected to likelihood of lower wages, lack of access to public assistance, lack of access to education, and poorer health outcomes. These experiences can cause symptoms that are associated with experiencing trauma, which can have long-term impacts on an individual’s health and well-being. After adjusting for socioeconomic status and demographic factors, people who are more likely to experience racism are still more likely to have very low food security. Targeting both structural racism and interpersonal racism is paramount to equitable food access.

Gaps in research make it difficult to quantify the prevalence of food insecurity among certain populations. For example, the USDA 2019 data do not include specific data for Asian American households. A theory that may explain this is the model minority myth, which may have led people to think that Asian Americans do not experience food insecurity. However, Asian American households may still experience food insecurity. The California Health Interview Survey found that Vietnamese Americans experienced the highest rate of food insecurity among Asian American subgroups, at a rate of 16.2% (Becerra et. al, 2018). Like other racial groups, the Asian American population is extremely diverse, leading to subgroups having unique languages, cultural customs, and experiences with regard to food insecurity.

Food insecurity is also related to a person’s immigration status, especially for people who are undocumented. Undocumented individuals tend to be afraid to utilize public assistance, including resources related to food access (e.g. SNAP, WIC, etc.), due to the fear of being detained and/or deported. According to the USDA, more than four million Latinx individuals who are eligible for SNAP do not participate in the program (Gepp, 2018). Cultural differences and language barriers are other reasons that can prevent immigrants from applying and enrolling for federal programs. It can be difficult for individuals to access and properly fill out the detailed forms necessary to utilize these resources. 

Acculturation, the assimilation to a dominant culture, can also have ties to food insecurity and health outcomes in immigrant populations. For the Asian American population in California, low acculturation has been associated with higher likelihood of food insecurity. The study authors hypothesized that Asian American immigrants who had low levels of acculturation may be affected by the relatively high cost of traditional Asian food products (Becerra et. al, 2018). Studies of Hispanic households have found mixed results with regard to whether acculturation is associated with food insecurity (Dhokarh et al, 2010). Acculturation may not only impact food insecurity, but also health outcomes related to food consumption. Acculturation of South Asians in California was associated with higher rates of fast food consumption (Becerra et al, 2014). Increased acculturation in the Hispanic population has been associated with negative health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (Dhokarh et al, 2010). Increased acculturation and thereby detachment from one’s culture can also have connections to negative outcomes in mental health.

The experience of food insecurity affects individuals’ physical and mental health status due to poor health outcomes and stress associated with it. Individuals experiencing food insecurity are at an increased risk of chronic disease and psychological distress. Children are additionally at increased risk of developmental issues. Food insecurity is tied to other social determinants of health and poorer health outcomes overall, making it difficult to achieve health equity

Advocating for anti-hunger and reducing food insecurity goes beyond merely providing meals to people in need. It is crucial to alleviate this issue by creating sustainable solutions, such as enforcing and strengthening policies and establishing funding that will address the root causes of this issue. While it will take years of hard work to eradicate food insecurity, getting involved and contributing in any way toward food equity can lead to positive changes within communities. After all, food often brings people together because the food we purchase, make, and eat usually leaves a long-lasting memory and creates a meaningful tradition that leaves an impactful story to tell people over a meal.

On National Food Day, October 24, 2020, AMWA’s Premedical Division will be launching an interactive advocacy campaign to increase awareness and education about food insecurity. We plan to create a low-budget, healthy cookbook for recipes that are personal, cultural, and/or traditional to AMWA members and their families. We will be collecting recipes and explanations of the meaning of the recipe and the culture that it comes from as we are trying to use healthy and low-budget ingredients to help with accessibility of recipes to everyone. We plan to create a PDF recipe book so that we can distribute to local food pantries & university nutrition initiatives. 

Please see our recipe guidelines and fill out our Google Form here if you are interested in submitting your recipe!


 Facts & Context of Food Insecurity

Racism and Racial/Ethnic Disparities 


Physical and Mental Health 

Anna Vardapetyan

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