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Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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6

Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger

The workshop’s fourth session considered community responses to food insecurity and hunger. Sonya Jones, Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, University of South Carolina, and deputy director of the Center for Research and Nutrition and Health Disparities, moderated the session. Katherine Alaimo, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, was the principal speaker. She provided a brief history of community food programs, reviewed the contributions of community food programs to address food insecurity as can be determined from the research literature, and concluded by suggesting areas for further research.

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, commented on Alaimo’s presentation, followed by open discussion.

STATEMENT OF KATHERINE ALAIMO1

Background

Alaimo noted that the United States has a long tradition of providing food to those in need. The modern emergency food assistance system began in the 1960s and 1970s and received a major boost in the early

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1Alaimo (2013) prepared a commissioned paper for the workshop, which formed the basis of her presentation. She thanked Caroline Crawford for research assistance for her presentation.

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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1980s when, in response to cutbacks in the Food Stamp Program, congressional legislation authorized the distribution of federally owned surplus food to soup kitchens and other groups that provided free food to needy people.2 A community food security movement has been in existence since the early 1990s and got a big jumpstart forward in 1996 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Programs.3 Many nonprofit organizations around the country have received these small grants to either start or move forward their community-based projects, and many of the projects Alaimo discussed were funded by that program.

Alaimo noted the issue of defining a “community” response versus a federal response. In fact, she indicated, there is a lot of blending, so that one cannot easily separate the two. Food assistance programs are happening at the community level, and some of them are also funded federally. For the purposes of her presentation, she defined “community responses” as “those that have been initiated at a local level and are at least partially funded by non-federal/non-state sources” (Alaimo, 2013:3).

According to Alaimo, household food security and community food security have different definitions, but overlapping goals. Household food security means that all household members have access at all times to enough food to support an active, healthy life. She noted that community food security has been defined as “a situation in which all community residents have access to a safe, culturally acceptable, and nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice” (Hamm and Bellows, 2003).

Alaimo commented that community food security advocates see food as an individual and a community right rather than as a commodity or an entitlement. A rights-based approach is different from a needs-based approach. Several people mentioned this difference throughout the workshop, and Alaimo said it is important to bring the difference to the forefront. A needs-based approach focuses on food and providing food to people who need it. In contrast, a rights-based approach, which she said was recently articulated very well in the literature by Chilton and Rose (2009) and Anderson (2013), focuses on creating enabling environments that support people in providing food for themselves with a structure for legal recourse. In other words, a rights-based approach necessitates facilitating social and economic structures that enable people to acquire

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2For example, the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) was authorized by Congress in 1981 to fund states to store and distribute surplus food commodities to those in need; TEFAP enabled food banks to become a central part of food assistance throughout the United States (see http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/programs/tefap/ [August 12, 2013]).

3See http://www.csrees.usda.gov/fo/communityfoodprojects.cfm [August 13, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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nutrition for themselves. It is not based on charity or giving something to someone but instead is the duty and obligation of a country to its people.

Alaimo stated that there are implications of the rights-based approach for efforts to address food insecurity. First, all sectors—government, corporate, and community—are needed in order to solve the problem of hunger in the United States. Second, it is not just enough to provide for people in terms of assuaging hunger, but rather, it is important to enable health, dignity, and self-reliance.

Another point, mentioned many times in the workshop, is that the situation for children cannot really be separated from adult food insecurity. Alaimo stated that children face consequences in a household in which the adults are food insecure even if the children themselves are getting enough to eat. Finally, food insecurity includes both quantity and quality, so that focusing on nutritional outcomes is important.

Community Food Security Grants Program

Alaimo provided an overview of the USDA Community Food Security Grants Program.4 She reported that from 2005–2010, the program provided $25 million in grants, which made it possible to produce 19 million pounds of food worth almost $20 million and for 2.5 million people to receive food through a community food project. Furthermore, the community grants produced 2,300 jobs, led to 1,000 new businesses, and supported 2,600 existing business (Fisher, 2013; National Research Center, Inc., 2011). Alaimo noted that most of the community food projects funded by USDA are not specifically focused on hunger, or providing enough food, but instead are focused on improving nutrition and diet quality, which is a component of food security.

In 2007, the nonprofit Community Food Security Coalition, with 250 member organizations, adopted holistic measures as an approach for evaluating community food security projects. USDA recently used this approach to evaluate the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program by specifying six goals for community food security: justice and fairness, strong communities, vibrant farms and gardens, healthy people, sustainable ecosystems, and thriving local economies.

Emergency Food System

Alaimo then turned to the emergency food system more broadly. The largest network in the system is the Feeding America National Network,

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4See http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/food/in_focus/hunger_if_competitive.html [August 12, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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with 33,500 food pantries, 4,500 soup kitchens, and 3,600 emergency shelters.5 The Network’s clients include 71 percent with income below poverty and 75 percent who are food insecure. Yet very importantly, only 41 percent of the Network’s clients participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to Alaimo, the emergency food system is clearly addressing an important need. It enables many dedicated activists, volunteers, citizens, and corporations to participate in the goal of ending hunger in this country. The system also prevents waste of food because corporations are able to donate food through the system that would otherwise have gone uneaten, and, finally, the system provides outreach for federal programs.

The emergency food system faces some challenges. According to Alaimo, its benefits amount to only a small percentage of the money available to a household from federal programs, such as SNAP and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Also, Alaimo was not able to find any evidence that the emergency food system is improving household food security. The issue could be definitional, in that food security is defined in terms of having reliable and regular access to sufficient food. Thus, she noted, if people are obtaining food from the emergency food system, then, by definition, they are food insecure. Alaimo said this seeming paradox needs more discussion.

Poppendieck (1999) talked about the “seven deadly sins” of the U.S. emergency food system: it is insufficient, inappropriate, inadequate, unstable, inaccessible, inefficient, and subjects people to indignity. Alaimo said she thinks many people in the emergency food system have taken those insights to heart and have greatly improved the system.

However, Alaimo argued that some of the points made by Poppendieck are still relevant. For example, a focus on the emergency food system diverts attention from the full range of the problem: for example, when people on the street are asked about hunger and what they can do to solve hunger, they talk about donating a can of food or donating to the food bank. Alaimo said the problem requires a much larger effort than that.

Alaimo stated that there is innovative programming going on right now in the emergency food system. One area of improvement is the greater procurement of fresh food and the adoption of nutrition standards. A critique of the emergency food system traditionally is that it has provided nonperishable packaged food simply because of the facilities that providers have available to them. There have been gains regarding procuring facilities that can handle fresh food. The Food Bank of New York City led the way with regard to nutrition standards by taking a stand

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5See http://feedingamerica.org/ [August 12, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

in 2004 that it would not accept soda or candy as donations for food bank clients.6 In a survey of 137 food banks, the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 30 percent had a policy to not accept unhealthy foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, although only 20 percent were fully implementing their policy (Webb et al., 2012).

Retail Environments

According to Alaimo, the literature shows mixed results of efforts to improve retail environments for access to healthier food. Moreover, defining “food deserts” in which there is not such access is not straightforward. One example is Flint, Michigan, where people think that a food desert exists in the center of the city because the major chain supermarkets are all located outside the city. Yet it is not known whether people in Flint are actually having a hard time accessing supermarkets. Alaimo suggested that qualitative research would be important to accurately delineate food deserts.

Alaimo commented on several initiatives to improve access to healthy food in food deserts. The first retail initiative she discussed is placing supermarkets in food deserts. For example, Pennsylvania has a Fresh Food Financing Initiative that has now been expanded to the U.S. Healthy Food Financing Initiative.7 These public-private partnerships work with grocers to place stores in underserved areas. The stores generate tax revenue, create jobs, improve housing values, and grow their own operations. However, the literature that looked at dietary patterns before and after the placement of these stores has not found significant changes in dietary patterns or increased consumption of fruit and vegetables (Cummins, 2007; Cummins et al., 2005, 2008; Wang et al., 2007), although one study found improvement in people with the poorest diets (Wrigley et al., 2003). Alaimo indicated that much more research is needed in this area. Perhaps people need other supports, she suggested, such as coupons for healthy food and nutrition education.

Another initiative is improving choices or lowering prices at corner stores, such as the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative funded by the Food Trust and other partners in Philadelphia. This initiative is working with more than 600 corner stores to increase their inventory of healthy products, market the initiative, provide business training for owners, and convert store equipment to support added fruits and vegetables. There is a very small amount of literature on this initiative, but

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6See http://www.foodbanknyc.org/ [August 12, 2013].

7See http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2010pres/02/20100219a.html [August 12, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

she noted that it looks like these conversions are beneficial by improving purchase and intake of healthy foods for both adults and children (Dannefer et al., 2012; Gittelsohn et al., 2009, 2010; Song et al., 2009).

Placing farmers markets in food deserts is another strategy. Again, there is only a small literature on the strategy, but she said it looks like there is a benefit of placing these farmers markets in underserved areas in terms of fruit and vegetable intake (Evans et al., 2012; Park et al., 2011; Payet et al., 2005; Ruelas et al., 2012; Spalding et al., 2012). One study found that farmers markets had an impact on lowering grocery prices in neighborhoods by providing competition (Larsen et al., 2009). SNAP redemption at farmers markets is growing, but it still accounts for a tiny percentage of SNAP dollars (McGuire, 2012). Fewer than half of states allow farmers at markets to accept Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits, and redemption rates are small and actually decreasing.

Farmers’ Markets Coupon Programs

Programs to provide coupons for use at farmers markets are a related initiative. Such programs as the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, both funded by USDA, provide coupons to people to use specifically at farmers markets to procure fresh produce. In federal fiscal year 2011, more than 18,000 farmers, 4,000 farmers markets, and 3,000 roadside stands were authorized to accept FMNP checks or coupons, providing $16.4 million in revenue for the participating farmers. The Michigan Double Up Food Bucks8 and similar programs in other states match SNAP dollars when used at a farmers market. A related program is the SNAP Healthy Incentives Pilot Evaluation in Massachusetts, which is not specific to farmers markets but stretches SNAP dollars when they are used for healthy food choices at participating retailers.9

From a number of studies, she said it appears that coupons increase people’s intention to eat and their intake of fruits and vegetables (see, e.g., McCormack et al., 2010). One study in Iowa addressed a concern that prices may be higher at farmers markets—it found that, to the contrary, fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are similar in price to supermarkets (Pirog and McCann, 2009).

Alaimo said there appears to be only one study of food insecurity rates consequent to participating in the FMNP, a study that compared WIC and WIC FMNP participants in a rural county. It did not find an

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8See http://www.doubleupfoodbucks.org/about [August 12, 2013].

9See http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/hip/qa-s.htm [August 12, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

impact, which is not surprising given that the FMNP coupons were worth only $18. There was, however, evidence of greater consumption of vegetables (Kropf et al., 2007).

Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening

Alaimo noted that gardening is very popular—more than 83 percent of U.S. households are involved in some form of lawn or gardening activities (Butterfield, 2006). They are relatively low cost for families. Also, SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and plant starts. Urban agriculture programs capitalize on available assets in many struggling cities and give a voice and a way for citizens to take action for themselves in order to improve food security and nutrition for their families.

Alaimo cited Detroit as an example, where 30 to 50 percent of the land is vacant. While many people see that as a detriment, it is an asset for food production. Colisanti and Hamm (2010) studied the amount of available land in Detroit and estimated that it is possible to produce 76 percent of the vegetables and 41 percent of the fruit needed by the populace to meet dietary guidelines. Keep Growing Detroit and other organizations in the city have a goal of food sovereignty through changes in the food production system. At present, these organizations grow about 1 percent of the fruits and vegetables that Detroiters eat within the city. The goal of food sovereignty is to produce the majority of fruits and vegetables that are eaten within a city.

The Garden Resource Program of Keep Growing Detroit is similar to many gardening organizations across the country: It provides plants and seed starts to people and assistance with plowing, watering, and other tasks. The Detroit collaborative has over 1,400 gardens and involves over 15,000 adult and youth gardeners. Keep Growing Detroit sponsors another program called Grown in Detroit, which is an income-generation program. For a small fee, people are taught how to wash and package their vegetables, and they can bring their produce to farmers markets throughout the city. Also, they can sell to wholesale markets and take home the resulting income.

Allen et al. (2008), Litt et al. (2010), and Miles et al. (2009) found that gardeners eat more fruit and vegetables than nongardeners—and the more they grow, the more they eat. It appears that this is a larger effect than many other fruit and vegetable interventions because of the access to produce, social connections, and attachment to place and nature that people get from gardening. Only one study, Carney et al. (2012), has looked at food insecurity before and after the intervention of a gardening program. This study had no control group and included only 38 families;

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

however, it found that the frequency of sometimes or frequently worrying about having sufficient food decreased substantially, although the frequency of skipping meals did not.

Related efforts include farm-to-school and school garden programs. Taylor and Johnson (2013) found that such programs increase school lunch participation and fruit and vegetable selection but did not find an increase in intake. Blair (2009) and Ratcliffe et al. (2011b) found that children who participate in school garden programs are more likely to try to eat vegetables. Also, farm-to-school programs may offer a greater variety of fruits and vegetables than traditional lunch programs (as reported in Joshi and Azuma, 2009), and greater variety has been shown to increase consumption (see, e.g., Adams et al., 2005).

Concluding Comments on Community Programs

In summary, Alaimo said, the strategies that communities use to improve the adequacy and nutritional quality of food include giving away free food; making sure healthy food is available for purchase nearby at affordable costs; making food production cheaper with coupons or other SNAP or WIC incentives; encouraging self-production; and encouraging small business, job creation, and training in the food and agriculture sector. Nutrition education programs are another community-based strategy.

Alaimo said she believes that community programs can improve the diet quality of low-income households. It is also important to think about how such programs can help improve the diet quality of all Americans. Alaimo stated that the field should think globally and not just focus on the low-income population with regard to nutrition education.

She noted that strategies to improve income and wages are generally not emphasized in community food programs other than for growers. Growing food can supplement family food supply and income, yet very little research has been done on the household economic impact and food security status impact of most community food projects. In order to measure such effects, Alaimo said better measures of food security may be needed to capture nuances and to address diet quality.

Alaimo repeated that federal economic policies, poverty programs, and food security programs are and should be the primary responses to food insecurity. Yet the community food programs can help, including through advocacy, nutrition, and income supports and through supporting people to participate in growing food themselves.

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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Suggestions for Further Research

Alaimo emphasized the need for research that uses mixed methods and is multidisciplinary. She also stressed the importance of using participatory approaches as researchers can learn much by collaborating with community members who can indicate priority research topics, help develop questions, and facilitate access to respondents. A participatory approach, she said, builds a much stronger research program to involve people in the community in research through developing the questions, developing the methodology, interpreting the results, and using those results to advocate.

Alaimo identified a need to determine whether community food programs improve the economic and food security status of the household, which requires that the necessary information be obtained for participating households and control groups. Another research issue is learning what factors make it possible for a community program to work on a larger scale than most programs work today. She said research should continue to document economic development outcomes, when appropriate, and that all such research should use rigorous evaluation methods when possible, including randomized assignment to treatment and control groups and validated measures of diet.

Evaluation of the innovative strategies being used by the emergency food network would also be helpful, as well as expanding support for rights-based approaches and broadening the outcomes measured from programming and pounds of food to include food security and whole measures. Another of Alaimo’s research suggestions is to determine how much food insecurity exists in the workforces of companies that donate food to the emergency food system. For retail initiatives, research would be helpful to think about what other kinds of support, such as nutrition education and discounts, are needed to change diet patterns besides placing a supermarket in a food desert area. Research on technologies to enable mobile vendors such as farmers to use the same electronic benefit transfer systems for SNAP, WIC, and coupon programs would be very useful, she noted, as would evaluation of outreach programs to encourage SNAP and WIC recipients to use farmers markets, given that such use seems to improve their fruit and vegetable intake.

Alaimo stated that zoning changes to recognize urban agriculture as an identifiable land use are important to enable these programs to be scaled up. Her final comment was that research is also needed on ways not only to improve food security, but also to enhance the economic impacts of cooperatives and other programs that enable farmers to capture a larger percentage of profits.

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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STATEMENT OF JOEL BERG10

Role of Government and Community Nonprofit Programs

Berg commented that the available data on food security date back only about 15 years, compared with data for estimating poverty that go back more than 50 years. The poverty data provide evidence that if national policy invests in social programs and supports efforts to increase jobs and raise wages, poverty goes down. These initiatives can be paid for by having the wealthiest pay their fair share, he said. In contrast, when the government adopts an alternative set of policies whereby the wealthiest are not asked to pay their fair share and that policy is used as an excuse to slash social programs and programs that create jobs, poverty goes up. He said it is exciting that Congress appropriated $10 million for child hunger research, and, undoubtedly, vital work will be done with these resources. However, he argued that this appropriation represents a distraction.

According to Berg, there is more doubt in Congress and the Obama administration about what works to reduce poverty than is justified by the knowledge base developed by the research community. In his opinion, he said, Congress would rather spend $10 million on research than $10–$20 billion eliminating the problem. Moreover, he said many people seem to define community interventions as distinct from and used in place of government interventions.

Berg stated that he often gives talks that begin something like: “The way to end hunger is to reduce poverty; the way to reduce poverty is to raise the minimum wage and have serious job creation programs and dramatically expand the safety net.” Invariably, his listeners will ask, “Why do you want the government to do it? Why don’t you want the community to do it?” Berg said he is fascinated that many people in the United States have developed the view that—in a democracy—a small nonprofit group not elected by anyone is a legitimate embodiment of community, while federal laws passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States are seen as an illegitimate noncommunity response.

Berg stated that the community food movement does not define itself as an antipoverty movement or even an antihunger movement. In fact, he cited one grant in the USDA Community Food Security Grant Program that was downgraded because one of the peer reviewers said that promoting SNAP promotes dependency. Even progressives, he said, have convinced themselves that community-based responses are better and

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10Berg’s presentation draws heavily on Berg (2013), “Beyond the Charity Myth,” a chapter in an edited volume.

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

more efficient than a national response. He suggested that the data do not necessarily support such a conclusion.

Berg noted that the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which he directs, spends substantial resources supporting communities and agriculture.11 The Coalition pioneered a community program that supported an agriculture project in which not only grant money, but also SNAP benefits were used to subsidize shares. It also has a program to use AmeriCorps members to support community gardens and does a lot of outreach to farmers markets. Berg said he wanted to make clear that these are good programs that help the community in many ways—for instance, community gardens can reduce crime, reclaim urban space, and provide other benefits.

Nonetheless, according to Berg, community food programs are doing very little to reduce hunger in America because the issue of scale that Alaimo raised is critical. He cited Growing Power, a community food intervention organization based in Milwaukee,12 as an example. The program could not survive without heavy government and foundation subsidies and is feeding only a small percentage of the Milwaukee population.

Berg referred to an urban gardener blogger who wrote, “Why don’t we have community gardens in Albany instead of SNAP?” Berg observed that Albany has a very robust community gardening program, yet it is feeding only a microscopic percentage of the population compared to SNAP. Also, people need to eat all year round, and the vast majority of the United States has seasons in which growing food is not possible. If food from community programs is stored over the winter, then it is not fresh or picked the day it is sold.

Berg estimated that the emergency food system, including food banks and other programs, distributes about $5 billion of food a year. While this is a large figure, SNAP alone amounts to $80 billion a year. Thus, every morsel of food distributed by every charity in America equals one-sixteenth of the current spending on SNAP, even though one-quarter or more of people eligible for SNAP do not apply for benefits, large numbers of children eligible for school breakfasts are not enrolled, and so on. Full participation in federal nutrition assistance programs would probably account for $100 billion or more of spending on food. Thus, he said, the federal food safety net dwarfs the charitable food system, but that is not what is in the media or what the public sees.

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11See http://www.nyccah.org/ [August 12, 2013].

12See http://www.growingpower.org/ [August 12, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

Suggested Topics for Further Research

Berg made several specific suggestions of research topics. First, he argued for a better explanation, developed through research, about how much of the community food response is government supported. A major source of food for food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries in America is government food provided under the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Emergency Food and Shelter Program,13 although cut back considerably, also provides food. In addition, about half of the states have state food purchasing and grant programs for food banks. Moreover, he said, every penny spent by a nonprofit group, if it comes through a charitable deduction, is subsidized by taxpayers. The lack of well-documented information on the extent of government support for community food programs deprives the public of knowing that their tax dollars are addressing a need and gives the public the false impression that private charity is doing more than it is.

Part of this research, he suggested, should address the issue of efficiency. His rough calculations estimate administrative spending in SNAP at about 10–15 percent of total costs.14 There is a lot more administrative overhead in the emergency food system because of all the steps involved in transferring food to regional food banks and then to pantries or kitchens. In general, Berg argued for more focus on the actual cost of community food programs. He reminded workshop participants of the historical fact that food banking grew up at the time where there was a massive amount of surplus food, which is no longer the case.

Another area for research, according to Berg, is state interventions. Oregon, for example, responded to the finding that the state had a very high level of food insecurity and achieved a large and statistically significant drop in food insecurity over a period of time, as discussed several times during the workshop. The effect of state initiatives is more than an academic question, he noted. A number of governors have made commitments to end child hunger, working with organizations such as Share Our Strength.15 He suggested research to determine whether governors can make a difference and, more generally, on whether communities alone can end hunger, acknowledging that he does not believe they can, particularly because of the difficulties of scaling up community food projects. For example, Berg said he does not believe that Detroit can locally produce 51 percent of its food, as some have suggested.

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13See http://www.fema.gov/public-assistance-local-state-tribal-and-non-profit/recoverydirectorate/emergency-food-shelter [August 12, 2013].

14See http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/report/2010/03/26/7436/doing-what-works-to-end-u-s-hunger/ [August 12, 2013].

15See http://www.nokidhungry.org/ [August 13, 2013].

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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Berg commented that when General Motors was a polluter, fought strikers, and paid poverty wages, every community did not develop its own auto factory. There were national interventions to make labor organizing easier, raise the minimum wage, and pass and enforce antipollution laws. Similarly, the idea that there will be small farms on the top of every roof as a solution to food insecurity is not economically practical, according to Berg, who called for research on this point. He said he understands that working through government is difficult but argued that there is no alternative as there does not appear to be a single time in history when a community on its own, without leadership from government, solved a massive social problem such as poverty or hunger. Yet it is possible to find examples of effective government action, such as in the 1970s when the federal government almost ended hunger in America. Berg argued for more historical research on this point.

OPEN DISCUSSION

Alaimo addressed Berg’s comment about the goal of community food programs in Detroit—clarifying that one goal is to produce the majority (51 percent or more) of fruits and vegetables, not all food and pointing out some winter-season growing is possible. She suggested a goal of 51 percent, although lofty, can move a program further along. While agreeing with many of Berg’s points, Alaimo said community food programs can do much good by connecting people to the earth. Berg replied that he was not criticizing the community food programs as such, but rather the rhetoric and ideology that have grown up around the programs. People too often use the existence of these programs as an excuse for not having programs that increase wages and provide a broader set of social services.

Deborah Frank (Brandeis University) commented about Alaimo’s question about the extent of food insecurity among the workers of donor companies. Another important issue, she said, is the amount of negative nutrition education in the United States, as the amount of money and the technical quality of advertising for nutrition education simply do not compare to the advertising for non-nutritious food, especially advertising targeted to children. It would be interesting to establish the order of magnitude of the difference. Frank said research and policy need to pay more attention to the negative nutrition education that bombards families and children. Such advertising is targeted to ethnic minorities very specifically—for example, children of color often appear in fast food ads. Research should examine this topic, Frank suggested.

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla (Yale University) thanked both of the presenters for their real-world, on-the-ground presentations, and suggested another topic for future research—namely, to develop sound business

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×

plans for community food programs. For these approaches to work, the farmers need to make a living, the store owners need to make a profit even if it is small, the price has to be reasonable for the consumers, and the cost to the government cannot increase to the point where it becomes politically impossible to do. He said it would be very useful to conduct such research so that decision makers understand and are comfortable that there is a way to actually make these programs work and sustainable.

Alaimo referred to an earlier point about learning from international studies and other countries, and suggested there may be lessons from the fair trade movement that would apply to the issue of sustainability of community food programs. There may also be lessons from cooperatives in which growers can participate in not just selling their produce, but also in owning the processing company so that they can capture a larger percentage of the profits from sales to the final consumer.

Berg echoed that point, noting that in an earlier work (Berg, 2009) he argued that real money and room for growth in urban agriculture come not from growing the food or selling the food but rather from processing it. In general, manufacturing jobs pay higher wages than those in other sectors, and there is real room for growth in that regard in food processing.

Jones ended the session noting a need to address the root causes of poverty and food insecurity, as well as a need for community-supported agriculture and community-based food system reform.

Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 65
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 66
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 67
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 68
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 69
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 70
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 71
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
Page 73
Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Community Responses to Food Insecurity and Hunger." National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2013. Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18504.
×
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Section 141 of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 20101 provides funding for a research program on the causes and consequences of childhood hunger and food insecurity, and the characteristics of households with childhood hunger and food insecurity, with a particular focus on efforts to improve the knowledge base regarding contributing factors, geographic distribution, programmatic effectiveness, public health and medical costs, and consequences for child development, well-being, and educational attainment. The Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Service of the US Department of Agriculture conducted two outreach efforts to obtain input from the research community and other stakeholders to help focus on areas and methods with the greatest research potential. First, Food and Nutrition Service sought written comments to selected questions through publication of a Federal Register Notice. The second option was to convene a workshop under the auspices of the Committee on National Statistics of the National Research Council and the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.

Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger is the summary of that workshop, convened in Fall 2012 to examine research gaps and opportunities to advance understanding of the causes and consequences of child hunger in the United States. This report reviews the adequacy of current knowledge, identifies substantial research gaps, and considers data availability of economic, health, social, cultural, demographic, and other factors that contribute to childhood hunger or food insecurity. It also considers the geographic distribution of childhood hunger and food insecurity; the extent to which existing federal assistance programs reduce childhood hunger and food insecurity; childhood hunger and food insecurity persistence, and the extent to which it is due to gaps in program coverage; and the inability of potential participants to access programs, or the insufficiency of program benefits or services.

Research Opportunities Concerning the Causes and Consequences of Child Food Insecurity and Hunger will be a resource to inform discussions about the public health and medical costs of childhood hunger and food insecurity through its focus on determinants of child food insecurity and hunger, individual, community, and policy responses to hunger, impacts of child food insecurity and hunger, and measurement and surveillance issues.

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