Food Insecurity; A Local and National Epidemic

At St. Lawrence University students are offered six different dining locations, which are all accessible with a swipe of your campus ID card.  A portion of our tuition guarantees hundreds of meal options any time of the day.  Looking past the SLU bubble however, the community surrounding our bountiful campus is far from blessed with the same opportunities.  St. Lawrence County has 15,290 citizens that are food insecure on a daily basis, estimated at 14% of the population (Gardenshare.org).  These statistics include 5,850 children who live in food insecure homes and more than 15,000 residents receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (Gardenshare.org).   However, 34% of the food insecure houses still have incomes to high to qualify for SNAP benefits, and overall St. Lawrence County is the second poorest county in the state with 19.7% of residents living below the federal poverty line (Gardenshare.org).  These numbers display the sharp contrast of privilege that the St. Lawrence campus community is often unaware of. 

Food insecurity is not only a local issue, 43 million Americans receive SNAP benefits across a national map of the poorest counties (O’Connor, nytimes.com).  However, this is a wide spread problem that has manifested a surplus of additional repercussions that are greatly affecting the health and stability of this country.  Food insecurity has led millions of American’s to sacrifice nutrition for cheap and accessible food sources like fast food or low-quality frozen foods.   In Canton alone, there are seven recognizable fast food chains.  Families often make the choice of a Burger King meal deal because after working long hours, it appears as the easiest way to feed everyone within a limited budget.  Several U.S.D.A reports on consumer buying habits at grocery stores found that households with SNAP benefits spent twenty cents of every dollar on junk food, which includes; desserts, salty snacks, sweetened beverages, candy and sugar (O’Connor, nytimes.com).  These consumer habits are leading to alarming numbers of increased health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (O’Connor, nytimes.com).  

What deserves to be recognized are the institutions working to help end food insecurity and educate communities about nutrition.  GardenShare is one critical example of how non-profit organizations can use diverse methods to tackle these issues locally.  In St. Lawrence County, they provide resources for local assistance including food pantries, community meals, farmer’s markets, cookbooks, community gardens, and school meal programs which many people aren’t always aware of (Gardenshare.org).  A fundamental aspect for combating nutrition and food insecurity is the push to buy local food. GardenShare publishes a Local Food Guide annually to publicize the wide variety of fresh foods, where they are sold, and how local products increase the county’s economy.  A common myth is that buying locally is too expensive, but organizations around the country are working to disband this ideology.  Multiple school districts from California to Kentucky have worked to incorporate locally grown food like Butternut Squash and Kale as ingredients in their lunch programs (Johnson, grist.org).  In these trial runs, schools found that by buying in greater quantity over time and putting in additional efforts to develop creative menus that local food could be a nutritional possibility for lunch programs everywhere (Johnson, grist.org). 

Overall however, food insecurity is a national epidemic that should be addressed head on.  What this large portion of the population needs is additional benefits besides federally funded SNAP.  GardenShare created a program with this in mind called Bonus Bucks.  This system allows for SNAP beneficiaries to receive 50% off their Community Supported Agriculture share or double their money at local farmer’s markets (Gardenshare.org).  The program allows for the organization to incentivize citizens to eat locally, consume healthier food, and boost the local economy.  While this is an excellent start to aiding a larger problem, I believe incentive programs could benefit the local and national problem of food insecurity and nutrition.  GardenShare’s Local Food Guide could be operated as a blueprint for implementing locally sourced food into the Canton Public School lunch programs.  The trial runs in California and Kentucky can be used as models to work on shaping Canton’s own trial run that features at least one locally sourced food at every lunch.  In addition, schools can send home information to parents on GardenShare’s food assistance resources, the Bonus Bucks program, and nutrition facts.  On a national level, I believe the U.S.D.A should create an incentivized program modeled on buying locally or choosing healthier options at the grocery store.  States can implement this program through Congressional districts where giving additional SNAP funding would over time produce an economically healthier community, decrease medical spending, and possibly even lower the food insecure population.  There are endless possibilities for ways to implement aid on this national epidemic of food insecurity.  However, most importantly the statistics and facts all point to how this problem is crippling our country and deserves increased attention for the overall health of Americans. 

 

Johnson, Nathanael. "Lunch Money: Can Schoolkids Really Eat Local without Breaking the Bank?" Grist. Grist.org, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 May 2017. <http://grist.org/food/lunch-money-can-school-kids-really-eat-local-witho....

O'Connor, Anahad. "In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda." The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2017. Web. 07 May 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/well/eat/food-stamp-snap-soda.html>.

"What We Do." What We Do | GardenShare. GardenShare.org, n.d. Web. 07 May 2017. <http://gardenshare.org/projects>.

From the GardenShare website; Local Farmer's Market