Strange Bedfellows. Food Insecurity, Hunger, and Obesity



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At first glance, the phrase food insecurity might seem like a newfangled way of describing hunger in an era where pundits and wordsmiths are coming up with new terms for old words in order to be more culturally sensitive. However, the term food insecurity has been around since 1979 when U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, coined the phrase, putting a spotlight on this global issue. Food insecurity is not synonymous with the word hunger, which was used for decades to describe  underfed people all over the world.

In 2006 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced there is a distinction between food insecurity and hunger, stating

hunger is an emotional and physiological state that indicates lack of food consumption while food insecurity is defined as lacking enough money to buy the amount and variety of food one needs or wants.

In a pre-pandemic 2017 report by Stefano Marchetti from the University of Pisa and Luca Secondi from the University of Tuscia, the data revealed that over 22.3% of   Italy were experiencing food insecurity or food poverty. Relative food poverty means when the family or individual is spending over 40% of their income on food.

Globally, in 2019, food insecurity was on the rise. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),

2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe nutritious and sufficient food.

Then the pandemic hit. Food insecurity spiked.

Italy was the first European country to grapple with disruption to food supply during the pandemic. There was no precedent or world model on how to cope during a mandatory national lockdown from March to May of 2020.

People all across Italy were quick to respond to the crisis at the local level. For example, in the province of Naples during lockdown, food banks, canteens, food vouchers, food delivery, and the Municipal Solidarity Fund were put in place to help vulnerable citizens, especially the elderly.

The charitable organization Caritas and food banks in Italy reported an increase of 40% in food requests, and up to 70% in the South of Italy as the pandemic progressed.

In the city of Turin, the project, Torino Solidale had a goal to reach out to over 15 thousand families for the free supply of food and basic necessities during lockdown. 

In Milan, within the first month of the pandemic, Food Aid Device – Dispositivo di Aiuto Alimentare (FAO) supplied 6,337 families, 20,744 persons with 16kg food per week per family. How much food is that? Picture this: A total of 616 tons of food were distributed, including products for newborns and a special diet for Muslims, according to the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).

Love or hate Henry Kissinger, he was onto something when he took the emphasis off hunger in America and put the focus on the socio-economic roots of food insecurity. 

The food stamp program was created in the USA in 1939, which now has a new name Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Even as the pandemic is winding down, food insecurity is playing out all over the world in a variety of socio-economic groups.  A new survey from the Greater Boston Food Bank found that almost one in three adults in Massachusetts don’t have the resources to get enough food to eat, which translates to 1.8 million people or 32 percent of the state’s adult population are food insecure. Food insecurity affects people of all ages, gender, and race.

As in Italy, new resources are popping up to address the problem all across the United States. SNAP distribution, food pantries, free meals, and food deliveries (Meals on Wheels) for the elderly are widespread, especially on Cape Cod. On the Outer Cape, there is a food pantry in every town, and in Provincetown, daily hot lunches are free at the Methodist Church for anyone from November through April when it closes during tourist season.

Lee Maglott

Seventy-eight-year-old Lee Maglott regularly takes a bus to get a hot meal and also to volunteer in the Provincetown Food pantry.

 It means a lot to me to go there and get a hot meal. Carpenters, office-type people, municipal workers, the elderly, and disabled people like Bob in his rolling wheelchair, partake in a welcoming atmosphere. One can be alone or chatty with others, and the volunteers don’t just pile anything on your plate. They ask you what would you like? Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Meat and potatoes?

So why is there so much malnutrition and food insecurity when a chunk of the population is obsessed with losing weight because they are fat?

Henry Kissinger got a gold star for emphasizing food insecurity, but he didn’t address the tragic flaws in the food industry that contribute to the rise in obesity. Junk food such as snacks with high sugar and fat content are popular purchases in the SNAP program. In 2016, the USDA admitted that sweetened beverages, like soda, are the most commonly purchased items by SNAP recipients throughout the USA (soda, slushies, iced coffee).

Coca-Cola’s label lists 0% protein and 78% added sugars (big factor in obesity) yet the purchase is covered under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Government has been in bed with the lobbyists who have done little to improve the problems surrounding junk food v. nutritious food. The rise in corporate farming, rampant pesticide use, genetic engineering of our strawberries to look like uber fruit, has once again, triggered a response at the local level.

Jerome Irving Rodale was considered the godfather of the organic farming movement, and in a wonderful new book, LOVE, NATURE, MAGIC by his granddaughter, Maria Rodale, writes:  

 Regenerative organic agriculture and environmental management is essential to all of us, and not just because we eat food – in fact, that’s the least of the reasons why. More significant, the needless poisoning of Earth harms all of us – our bodies, our communities, our water, our soil, our air, our hearts, and our spirit. The global environmental crisis is real. It is very likely that over the next decades, those of us still alive will witness unprecedented human migration. Vast number of people may be forced to flee their homes due to rising sea levels, desertification, starvation, lack of water, flood), and all political unrest kindled by those sorts of tragedies.

Floods? Think Venice and Cape Cod.

So if we can’t dispense with lobbyists, and change at the government level seems to move at a snail’s pace, perhaps the best hope is to go local and support food banks, the regional anti-pesticides movement, organic gardening, and redistribution of excess food, because change at the micro-level can turn into the macro. Every local effort may feel like just a drop of water in a puddle, but every drop of water can become part of rivers, tributaries and our ocean.  Think Globally. Act Locally.

It’s already a bumper sticker at

LOVE NATURE MAGIC is available on Amazon and which provides free shipping worldwide. Link

Strange Bedfellows. Food Insecurity, Hunger, and Obesity ultima modifica: 2023-03-06T17:39:31+01:00 da JUDITH NEWCOMB STILES
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