What is Food Insecurity?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Put simply, food insecurity is a measure of the availability of food and a person’s ability to access it. Food insecurity can be temporary or long-term. According to USDA statistics, more than 13 million U.S. households experienced food insecurity at some point during 2019. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, that number is on the rise and is expected to more than quadruple by the end of 2020.

What causes food insecurity?

There are many factors that affect food insecurity, including affordability of food items, distribution and location of places to purchase food, and availability of quality, healthy food options. However, the risk for food insecurity increases when money to purchase food items is limited or unavailable.

Additional risk factors include:

  • Lack of employment opportunities

  • Lack of reliable transportation to grocery stores

  • Living in a food desert (an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food)

Food insecurity vs. hunger

Though closely related, food insecurity is not the same as hunger. Hunger is a personal, physical feeling of discomfort that results from lack of food and nutrients. Food insecurity is a socio-economic circumstance characterized by a lack of reliable access to food. Hunger is often, though not always, a consequence of food insecurity.

Types of food security

The USDA’s food security statistics measure the level of food insecurity across the country using an annual survey distributed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Respondents are broken down into four categories based on their answers to a series of questions about reliable access to food.

High Food Security – No reported indications of food-access issues
Marginal Food Security – Few indications of food access issues, such as anxiety over food shortage in the house
Low Food Security (Food Insecurity) – Reduced quality, variety and desirability of diet
Very Low Food Security (Food Insecurity with Hunger) – Disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake

Food insecurity solutions

An important part of addressing food insecurity is understanding that it’s not just about getting enough food, but about nutritious and diverse foods to keep families and communities healthy. This requires ensuring all families have access to resources that help them maintain stability, such as a reliable source of income, transportation and social services.

The Freestore Foodbank is working to eliminate hunger and create a healthy, thriving community. Along with community partners across our region, we provide emergency food distribution and an array of support services (emergency clothing, housing, transportation, SNAP assistance, Medicaid outreach, and more) that offer a pathway from crisis to stability.

You can help us address food insecurity in our area. Sign up for our email list to learn about future opportunities to help ensure our neighbors don’t go hungry.