My little family has firsthand knowledge of what it was like to live with food insecurity. I was a single mom who raised my son with no child support and although I worked full time we were still considered to be living below the poverty line. I was raised to be proud and to think that if I worked hard that all of my needs would be met. Little did I know that sometimes the hardest working person would not always be able to provide for his/her family. I spent many days standing in line for our Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program certification/benefits and government food products at the local Salvation Army, plus visiting the day old bread store to supplement our food supply. The enrollment in the Reduced/Free Lunch Program and the before/after school programs at my son’s school also provided “square meals” for breakfast and lunch and a “healthy” snack after school five days a week. The problem was that even with these added benefits there were many days that I went without or ate very small meals so that my son would not go without a meal. I always knew that I was not alone in my struggle and the sense of failure that I felt when I could not always provide the best meals possible for my child and myself. I wanted to do it on my own with my pride intact and I realize in retrospect that I should have checked my ‘pride at the door’ and applied for the food stamp program.
What I did not realize is the definitions of food security/hunger and how there is interconnectivity between the two terms. It is important to note that in 2006, the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) of the National Academies recommended that the USDA make a clear and precise distinction between food insecurity and hunger:
- Food insecurity—the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA;
- food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food and
- Hunger is an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity (USDA Economic Research Service, Definitions of Food Security, http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx#.U1HZ6_ldWSp).
There are several other factors to think about in this discussion, such as: the implementation of Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients into our food supply and food sustainability. First, I will talk about GMs. GM ingredients are found largely in processed foods with a staggering 70 percent of processed foods containing these potentially dangerous organisms (Mercola, Dr, Mercola.com, Why GMOs can Never be Safe, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/08/06/genetic-modification.aspx).
So what are processed foods? Take a few minutes to look at the ingredient list on your favorite cereal or any other processed food product. The longer the ingredient list and the longer, more scientific the ingredients sound the more likely it is that those ingredients are processed. Most processed foods are usually placed in the center aisles of the grocery store and have a very long shelf life. So the key when shopping is if you cannot read it and/or pronounce it then you should leave it on the shelf. One point to remember is that most unprocessed, natural foods such as: vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, etc. are usually found on the periphery of the grocery store (Jacob, Aglaee, Healthy Eating, Processed Food Definition, http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/processed-food-definition-2074.html). However, if you buy processed foods please gravitate towards the products with the USDA 100% Organic label because organics are not supposed to permit GMOs. There is a guide that has been created by the Institute for Responsible Technology that you can print out and use called the Non-GMO Shopping Guide(Mercola, Dr, Mercola.com, Why GMOs can Never be Safe, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/08/06/genetic-modification.aspx). There is a way to control your intake of GM foods and that would be to actively work to switch the foods in your diet to whole foods such as: vegetables and fruits (grown with non-Genetically Modified Organism (GOM) seeds), grass-fed meats, etc.
Second, would be the introduction of sustainable food into your everyday life. What is sustainable food you ask? There are several definitions; however, most would say that this means:
Food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage for the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities (http://mpi.sustainableeventtool.com/glossary).
With all of this knowledge, I took to the streets including and surrounding my local community in Rochester. My goal was to find out how my local community was dealing with the issues of food security, hunger, accessibility to quality and inexpensive non-processed, non-GMO/GM foods, and sustainable foods.
When asked, How was food provided for you family when you were growing up?
Sandy, a 45 year old white female, stated, “When I was growing up my mom would make the majority of our meals and snacks from scratch. We did not have pop, sweet cereals or junk food in our cupboards. We would pick apples, tomatoes when they were in season and can for the following months. We always had a great time although it was hard work. We never had to worry when times got a bit rough because there were always jars in the cellar so we always had something to eat!”
Jamie, a 23 year old African-American male, stated, “I grew up on convenience foods and the microwave because my parents were at work. Us kids would come home from school and heat up some pizza rolls or Pop Tarts to hold us over until they came home from work.”
Did your family ever receive any assistance from the government to help with the costs of food?
Sandy, “My dad said that he would provide for us and that he didn’t need the government to help us out. We had our own little garden in the backyard and dad would hunt and fish so we would have food to eat. There were times when there was more to eat than others but we hardly went to bed hungry and if we were hungry we would never say it!”
Jamie, “We grew up getting reduced lunches at school and using Monopoly money at the grocery store. That is what my mom called it Monopoly money. We always had easy, microwavable stuff to eat.”
What do you think about eating healthy?
Sandy, “I think it is pretty expensive to eat healthy plus how do we know what is in our food. Even the organic food is not really regulated. So I pay huge money for healthy organic food and not know if they have used manure from cows that were fed corn products. GMOs are bad news…where do we draw the line?”
Jamie, “I have seen how chickens and cows are treated on farms but I like to eat them. How do you know where to buy your food? Where does the food come from? How long since it was packaged? There are more questions than answers when it comes to eating healthy!”
Have you shopped at the Rochester Public Market?
Sandy, “I love going there are buying fresh from the famers. It is great that they take EBT and I have seen them take tokens from I think the WIC program. I feel that I am getting fresher and more healthy produce, eggs, cheese, and meats from the market and I go there at least once a week.”
Jamie, “My girlfriend likes to go to get the fresh produce. I never knew the place was there before but I like to go to walk around and watch the people.”
The Rochester Public Market has been around since 1905. They are open all 52 weeks on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. They have local vendors who sell produce, ethnic items, etc. The have a great program called the Market Token Program that provides $1 and $5 tokens to those people with food stamp benefits. The tokens are meant to be used for fresh produce and other products provided by the over 100 vendors at the market (Public Market, http://www.cityofrochester.gov/article.aspx?id=8589936780).
There are numerous Rochester area food co-ops which help local people come together with area farmers to become a small grocery store type entity. Groups of people throughout the community have a say in what they can purchase because they own and manage the co-ops. Most of the Rochester area co-ops sell seasonal natural, organic foods that are grown and/or raised by the local farmers. These co-ops provide a less expensive avenue for the consumer to quality healthy food to their families for less money.
I like what the website had to say about community improvement through the Rochester co-ops:
Rochester co-ops help to bring people together. A community is only as strong as its citizens and a co-op is only successful if its members cooperate and work together in order to make their venture thrive. Members have an equal say and must focus on how to build the co-op and help to produce enough products to feed and serve as many people as possible.(Organic Ag Info, ShopSmarter-Rochester C0-op Guide, http://www.organicaginfo.org/new-york/co-ops-rochester).
I believe that as long as the awareness and education continue into the long term effects of eating healthy vs. non-healthy then we are on the right track. We did not get to this point overnight and as long as there is an unbalance in the system between the haves and the have-nots there will continue to be a those families who can afford and those who cannot afford food security in the US. There needs to be increases in the number of businesses in which ALL people within the community, no matter what their socioeconomic background, can be provided with an equal opportunity to healthy, organic foods. This thought process is better for the health and wellness of our children, adults, and elderly.