Thursday, January 09, 2014

Food Security in 2014

Percent of population that is undernourished, 2012 data -- Wikipedia
Thinking of the grim topic of hunger throughout the world, I have been trying to read about food security and insecurity in the coming year -- a very broad topic. Discussions of inequality in our own society often touch on the consequence, for the poorest Americans, of having too little food and on the political motivation that causes much of the hunger in America. Throughout the world, both climate change and population growth are already affecting food supplies in many areas. Wars and conflicts also can drastically change the distribution of food, as when a dominant group oppresses its traditional or new opponents. Certain conflicts, like those in the horn of Africa and Syria, in fact, may themselves have origins in declining supplies of food and other resources.

Hunger will continue to be widespread in 2014, and growing: "the reality [is] that by 2050, the world will likely have another two billion mouths to feed and face an estimated 70 percent increase in global food demand." source  

First, what is food security? A useful and frequently cited definition from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations:
"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." source source
Who are the insecure in the US, and why are they suffering in a country that seems so prosperous? Changes to government aid to the poor (such as reductions in SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps) are a major reason why the poorest people in America are losing ground in the struggle for food security. Poor people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are suffering; here is one example:
"Even though a large percentage of American Indians receive SNAP benefits, current data suggests that a large percentage of American Indians are food insecure. ... In total, roughly 22 percent of American Indians do not have sufficient food maintain healthy lives." source
Who are the insecure outside the US? Almost every Asian and African country suffers from the threat of food insecurity. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, the Phillipines, North African and sub-Saharan countries, and many others have been the subject of recent news articles about hunger.
"'We should expect much more political destabilisation of countries ...,' says Richard Choularton, a policy officer in the UN's World Food Programme climate change office. 'What is different now from 20 years ago is that far more people are living in places with a higher climatic risk; 650 million people now live in arid or semi-arid areas where floods and droughts and price shocks are expected to have the most impact.
''The recent crises in the Horn of Africa and Sahel may be becoming the new normal. Droughts are expected to become more frequent. Studies suggest anything up to 200 million more food-insecure people by 2050 or an additional 24 million malnourished children. In parts of Africa we already have a protracted and growing humanitarian disaster. Climate change is a creeping disaster.' he said." source
What are some of the consequences of this widespread disaster? In the underdeveloped world, the consequences are simple to grasp: many children and adults tragically starve to death; others experience terrible suffering.

In the US, things aren't quite as grim, but there are consequences. Two examples:
"In the US, chronic food insecurity has been documented to lead to, paradoxically, obesity, especially in women and girls. One theory as to why food insecurity leads to obesity is that episodic periods of food insecurity cause the sufferer to overeat in an attempt by the body to recoup missing calories. The type of food consumed in food insecure households may be another factor: high calorie food made from commodity crops (e.g., fast food and 'junk' food) is often cheaper and easier to access than healthful food with high nutritional value." source
"Poor people with diabetes [in the US] are significantly more likely to go to the hospital for dangerously low blood sugar at the end of the month when food budgets are tight than at the beginning of the month, a new study has found." source
 The subject of food security is broad and complex. I have excerpted just a few quotations to try to grasp the breadth of the problem.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

This is a fascinating topic and pretty critical, I think. It makes me think about local-local and growing your own almost as much as a matter of personal security as it does good food and smaller carbon footprint.