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The food system is in crisis. As it currently stands, hundreds of millions of people are without access to nutritious food, and the number is growing everyday. We must act now.
That said, food insecurity is complex, ever-evolving, and intertwined with with almost every societal issue (think climate change, racism, gender disparaties, et.c) In order to create effective change and find tangible solutions, we must first understand the crisis at hand.
Nearly 768 million people experience food insecurity, which is up by 118 million people since 2019. Close to 12% of the global population experienced severe food insecurity.
An estimated 2.37 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2020.
In 2019, 6.9 percent of children under 5 (or 47 million children) were affected by wasting, or acute undernutrition, a condition caused by limited nutrient intake and infection.
Food insecurity and nutrition insecurity
When someone experiences food insecurity, they are experiencing a lack of regular, safe access to enough food for normal growth and development. Food insecurity can lead to various forms of malnutrition–from nutrient deficiency to diet related diseases like obesity and diabetes–and can have serious consequences for overall health and well-being.
While the concept of food security encompasses safe, steady, and affordable access to nutritious foods, the “nutritious” part has been overlooked in national policies and solutions. Shifting to the term “nutrition security” lets us sharpen the focus to make way for solutions that “nourish people, instead of filling them with food but leaving them hungry.” That means placing on emphasis on quality foods that are culturally relevant, rather than just quantity.
Nutrition insecurity is strongly linked to poverty and has deep structural roots in social and economic disparities. These systemic inequities, including inadequate access to health services, low wages, availability of healthier options in the community, distance from a supermarket, etc., are all underlying contributors that can cause someone to experience nutrition insecurity.
Malnutrition and hunger are often used interchangeably but they mean very different things. Hunger is the painful physical sensation that happens when you don’t consume enough calories or dietary energy from food. Whereas malnutrition refers to any deficiency, excess or imbalance in a person’s intake of dietary energy or nutrients. You can be hungry without experiencing malnutrition or nutrition insecurity, and you can experience nutrition insecurity or malnutrition without being hungry.
According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition covers two broad groups of conditions: 1. Undernutrition, which refers to stunting, wasting, underweight and micronutrient deficiencies; and 2. Overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Hunger and food insecurity tend to go hand in hand with malnutrition, but there is no guarantee that having access to more food will automatically prevent malnutrition.
The U.S. Government offers a variety of federal nutrition programs that help supply or supplement food for people who are in need. Perhaps the most well-known of these programs is SNAP, (formerly food stamps), which stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and provides low-income families with additional income to purchase nutritious foods. We also recommend getting in touch with national or local non-profit organizations, like our partners Feeding America and WhyHunger, who can help you find and access local resources like community food programs, food pantries and more.
Food systems and food justice
Food systems embrace a range of actors involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal (loss or waste) of food products that originate from agriculture, livestock, forestry, fisheries, and food industries, and the broader economic, societal, and natural environments in which they exist. This includes everyone from the farming, growing, fishing, and ranching communities, as well as pre-production actors such as input industries producing fertilizers or seeds. It also includes those in science, technology, data, innovation actors, public and private quality and safety control organizations, food distributors, service industry workers, manufacturers, and transportation personnel.
Food justice takes a holistic, rights-based view of the food system and considers socio-economic pressures, structural barriers and inequities that prevent access to quality nutrition. As socio-economic disparities are experienced more often by minority groups, we tend to see this manifest in unequal health outcomes in underserved communities. On the heels of nutrition security, food justice takes our advocacy work a step further to support communities in their right to grow, sell and eat nutritious, fresh, affordable, locally produced and culturally appropriate food. It sees healthy food as a human right, and calls for an end to the systemic inequalities (including racism, poverty, gender inequity, geographic disparities) that block people from exercising that right.
Food touches every part of our society and our lives, but there are hidden costs associated with every dietary choice we make. Having a better understanding of these costs, or the True Cost of Food, makes it easier to see that how, what and where we consume food has an impact on the future of people and planet. Americans spend $1.1 trillion each year producing, processing, retailing, and wholesaling the food we buy and eat. This number does not include the healthcare costs for the millions of Americans with diet-related diseases or the present and future costs or the food system’s effect on climate change. A Rockefeller Foundation report found that the true cost of food is closer to $3.2 trillion per year. Read the full report here.
The Healthy Living Coalition aims to drive progress under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with a focus on SDG-2: Zero Hunger
What is SDG-2?
SDG stands for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, which is the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequalities, and protect the planet by 2030.
Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger, aims to end hunger, achieve food security, and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
Hunger and malnutrition cut across all 17 SDGs and have the potential to create wide-ranging positive change. The Global Goals cannot be achieved with a food system that does not promote equal access to nutritious food, support for all workers along the supply chain and sustainable agriculture practices. Without tackling hunger and malnutrition first, we cannot create a better and more sustainable world for people and the planet.
Learn about the intersectionality of our food systems
Addressing gender injustice is a fundamental prerequisite for food systems transformation. Globally, the prevalence of food insecurity is slightly higher in women than in men. and more often than not, the face of malnutrition is female. This is a result of biological, economic, social, and cultural reasons. For example, in many households in developing countries, women do not have a say in how food and other resources are distributed among household members, including themselves and children, and are more likely to give up their resources for their child.
The gender gap in food insecurity is larger among impoverished and less-educated segments of the population, but even when women have the same income and education levels as men, it is still more difficult for them to access food than their male counterparts.
Did you know our food systems account for more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions? The choices people make around food, and how that food is produced, not only affect our health but also have a huge impact on the environment and climate change progress. Not all healthy diets are climate-friendly and not all diets designed for environmental sustainability are always healthy. The environmental consequences of unbalanced and unhealthy diets translate into real monetary costs. Our current dietary patterns have social costs like greenhouse gas emissions that are estimated at USD $1.7 trillion per year by 2030.
Food insecurity can be experienced by people of any color or ethnicity, but a long history of systemic racism, fueled by inequitable systems around housing, employment, benefits, criminal justice, and healthcare make some groups more vulnerable than others. African American households are more than 2x more likely to experience food insecurity than white, non-Hispanic households. Many Black, Indigenous, and people of color groups are disproportionately affected by poor food access, leading to a higher risk of hunger and all forms of malnutrition, from nutrient deficiency to diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes.
Good food for all
What is Good Food? Good food is a foundation for everything, it gives us the energy we need to fight for a better future for everyone, everywhere. Along with our friends at the SDG-2 Advocacy Hub, we hope to create a better world with good food for all.
The SDG-2 Advocacy Hub is leading the Good Food for All Campaign and acts as a central resource for NGOs, agricultural networks, nutritionists, campaigners, civil society, the private sector, and UN agencies to coordinate advocacy efforts and achieve SDG-2 by 2030.
All communities around the world deserve food that is not just high in quantity, but high in quality. It should be culturally relevant and fresh. It’s time to level the playing field with effective food systems.
Healthy food that is safe to consume, allows us to reach our fullest potential, and helps us thrive is a human right.
Only if we are healthy and strong can we fight injustice and create a better and more equitable world for all. To be at our best we must have good food, first.
2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit
The United Nations Food Systems Summit will take place virtually on September 23, 2021 during the United Nations General Assembly. The Summit will connect issues of climate, social and economic issues, environment and nutrition, and all SDGs as they relate to our global “food systems” – the ways in which we produce, process and consume food. The HLC is actively driving progress under Action Tracks 1, 2 and 4. To register for the summit, click here.
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