Though the United States is a wealthy country with abundant resources, it has a remarkably big hunger and food accessibility problem. As many as 41 million Americans go hungry, including nearly 13 million children. Those most affected by hunger include households with children led by single women and people who live below the poverty level. But there are even people who make too much money to qualify for federal food assistance who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
The most affordable food is also often not very healthy. And, in areas known as food deserts, where there aren’t enough supermarkets, people must travel long distances, often without transportation, just to access food. Fortunately, numerous groups, from government agencies to startups, are working on solving this food crisis, so people can live their best and healthiest lives.
Problem: Children Going Hungry
More than 12 million children in the United States live in “food insecure” homes, where they do not get enough to eat or the food that they do eat is not conducive to living a healthy life. A nonprofit called Share Our Strength, which works to solve hunger and poverty, launched a campaign in 2010 called No Kid Hungry and made a commitment to work until children in America have the food they need to grow up healthy and strong.
Solution: Meal Programs That Make a Difference
No Kid Hungry supports many food programs, but primarily focuses on federal food benefits programs it feels will make the greatest difference for hungry kids. Some of those programs include the school breakfast program, the summer meals program and the afterschool meals program.
Problem: No Access To Healthy Foods
Food deserts are places that lack access to fresh fruits, veggies and other healthy foods. In many cases, people simply can’t get to the food that they should be eating. So, if people can’t get to the food, then sometimes it’s necessary to bring food to the people.
Solution: Mobile Food and Bus Stop Markets Bring Food to Those in Need
Some savvy cities have begun to solve this problem by bringing mobile food markets to locations that lack access or by putting farmers markets and small groceries in central locations where buses and other public transportation are likely to bring large numbers of people to the food.
The first known mobile food market in North America was created in Oakland, California, back in 2003, called The People’s Grocery. It renovated old postal trucks to drive food around where it was needed. Another example is in Dayton, Ohio, where The Market opened at Wright Stop Plaza, a main downtown transit center. Sponsored by Homefull, this organization trains and staffs the shop with people experiencing homelessness.
Problem: Some College Students Are Getting Education, but Not Food
Some college students are filling their brains better than their bellies, according to Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. The Center published a study in April 2019 showing that 45% of students who responded, from over 100 institutions, reported that they had been food insecure within the prior 30 days of the study. Food insecurity refers to having limited or uncertain access to food. Without quality nutrition, students can have a difficult time focusing on their studies.
Solution: Students Share Unused Meals
Solutions to the problem of hungry college students include programs like Share Meals and Swipe Out Hunger, which let students donate their unused dining hall meals to hungry fellow students. Additionally, the College & University Food Bank Alliance also offers food insecure students access to nearby food pantries through an app and is working on bringing in more pantries all the time.
Problem: Fast Food Is Largely Unhealthy
Fast food is often the go-to for low-income people and those with food insecurity because it’s typically cheaper than eating at a regular restaurant or a supermarket. Fast food is, unfortunately, linked to numerous health risks, ranging from high cholesterol to insulin resistance. But a couple of fast-food giants might be making some important changes to offer healthy alternatives.
Solution: Fast-Food Chains Are Offering Plant-Based Burger Alternatives
Burger King may be trying to change its bad rep by offering the Impossible Burger, a healthy, vegetarian alternative to its famous Whopper. Carl’s Jr. is also entering the competition by offering Impossible Burger’s competitor, Beyond Meat.
The Impossible Burger uses a unique soy protein called “heme” that allegedly gives the burger a meaty texture and flavor that marks it as different from other veggie burger alternatives. Though the burger mimics the flavor of real beef, it is completely plant-based, thus both healthier for humans and better for the planet.
Problem: People Don't Know How To Grow Fruits and Vegetables Themselves
If people in a food desert don’t have easy access to supermarkets, one solution is to bring community gardens to these areas so they can grow some of their own fresh fruit and vegetables. However, people don’t necessarily have the knowledge needed to grow a successful garden.
Solution: Train People and Provide Education Through Community Gardens
The American Community Garden Association not only keeps a database of over 18,000 existing community gardens, but it also offers resources and tips on how to start one.
Along with that, DC Urban Greens is a community garden that was started with the goal of increasing accessibility of affordable healthy food to people who live in Washington, D.C.’s food desert neighborhoods, which lack access to grocery stores. The company also trains and employs residents of these neighborhoods in urban farming.
Problem: Political Threats Jeopardize SNAP
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — helps millions of people stretch their food budgets every month with valuable vouchers for food and some household goods. In 2017, 42 million people took advantage of the vouchers to buy food for themselves and their families. The lower the income of the family, the greater the SNAP benefits.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have differing opinions about the value of SNAP. President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposes to cut SNAP by more than $213 billion over the next 10 years, or by around 30%.
Solution: The New SNAP Bill Could Help More People
Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., introduced a bill that would increase benefits for all SNAP participants, with special increases for families with children with high shelter costs as well as elderly people and those with disabilities. With so many people struggling to afford food, cutbacks on SNAP could have major effects and only increase the current food crisis.
Problem: People Struggle To Get Out of Poverty
If you make low wages and live in a low-income neighborhood, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll deal with a lack of full-access grocery stores, farmers markets and other venues for buying healthy food. Healthy food is often more expensive as well, leading to cycles of unhealthy eating which is linked to negative health outcomes. And people who live in poverty face tremendous odds to get out of poverty.
Solution: This Kitchen Offers Paths Out of Poverty Through Food-Related Careers
A Washington, D.C., community kitchen, DC Central Kitchen, aims to tackle both food insecurity and poverty through unique programs. It prepares unemployed adults for culinary careers, repurposes wasted food into meals for the homeless and shelters, serves food to low-income school children, delivers fresh food to local stores and empowers high school and college students to fight food waste and hunger on their campuses.
Problem: Lack of Affordable Food Delivery When Needed
There are already a variety of foods you can purchase and have delivered by drones. These include pizza, tacos and sushi, to name a few. But these services are not exactly affordable and aren’t really practical for people in low-income areas. And what about people in disaster areas? Well, there’s the edible drone.
Solution: The Edible Drone
A drone-making company called Windhorse Aerospace is developing an “edible” drone called the Pouncer that is designed to bring food to disaster areas and food deserts. Its wings would be made from kinds of food, as well as its main compartments being filled with other food. The remaining bits of the drone would be made of material that could be burnt safely for cooking. The idea is that when the person is done with the drone, it will be almost completely waste-free. The product is still in the testing stage.
Problem: Cities Aren't All Designed To Even Out Socioeconomic Disparities
City leaders are aware that the coming decades may bring massive changes in population growth and socioeconomic disparities. Some are trying to get ahead of these changes by redesigning their cities to make them more walkable or to improve transportation, which could lead to other benefits.
Solution: Redesigning Cities Could Make Food More Accessible
Atlanta is in the early stages of converting an abandoned loop of multiuse trails that were formerly railroad corridors around the area known as the BeltLine into a walking and biking trail and eventually a streetcar line. When it’s complete, it will connect 45 neighborhoods along its 22-mile loop. New restaurants have already cropped up on the part of the trail that’s been completed and, hopefully, more supermarkets and even farmers markets will turn up as well.
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