In order to safeguard international peace in the aftermath of World War Two, the United Nations and its numerous agencies were formed by the victorious Allied powers. One of these agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), took on the challenge of ending hunger on a global scale. In 1981, the FAO declared the date of their creation (October 16th) World Food Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about world hunger and providing solutions for change. Today, we will celebrate World Food Day by highlighting some of the ways that individuals, coalitions, and organizations can take part in the fight against global food insecurity.
In 2019, the barriers to eliminating food insecurity look vastly different than in 1945 or even 1981. Yet even with a rapidly growing world population, this core truth remains: there is enough food to feed every single person on this planet. The problem, then, is access and excess. For instance, if you live in a food desert and the closest grocery store is thirty minutes away on public transportation, you’re more likely to experience food insecurity than someone who lives a five-minute walk from the store. These “food deserts” or “food swamps” (communities filled with fast food chains instead of grocery stores) are disproportionately low-income communities and/or communities of color. And, while people starve every day without access to proper nutrition, the wealthiest global elite waste tons of food every day. Just in the state of Massachusetts, 1 in 11 people are struggling with hunger. That’s over half a million people who are food insecure in a state that is often listed as one of the healthiest states in America. So how can we challenge such a ubiquitous issue? That’s where coalitions and community-based organizations (CBOs) come in.
Coalitions and CBOs are essential players in the fight against global concerns. In the case of food insecurity, there are a number of organizations in Massachusetts working with their communities to help those struggling with hunger. For example, the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative works to improve food security through a prepared meals delivery program and supports healthy eating with a Farmer’s Market. In Lowell, the Lowell Food Security Coalition works across sectors (including health services, youth services, and farming/gardening projects) to fight food insecurity. And the Southeastern Massachusetts Food Security Network advocates for local farmers/producers and eliminate food insecurity in Southeast Massachusetts. There are countless other coalitions, CBOs, nonprofits, and communities working on the problems of hunger and food insecurity, and their work is essential in chipping away at a problem that can otherwise seem insurmountable.
Even if you are not part of a group working on food access, there are a number of things you can do individually to make a difference, including eating local and seasonal foods to support farmers in your area, donating to your local food bank, and only buying what you need (Americans waste between 30-40% of their food per year!) This statistic is just one glaring example of unequal food access, given that, in 2017, over 40 million Americans were living with food insecurity.
But what else can be done? On a larger scale, governments and institutions can support food delivery programs and accessible labeling requirements; work across sectors, from health to education to agriculture to create more wholistic policies; invest in sustainable agriculture; and support family farmers. Private businesses can also play a role. They can make sure foods are labeled sensibly (see the debacle over the new GMO labels) so that people can make informed decisions about their diet; develop healthy and affordable foods; and share technological innovation.
On this World Food Day, it’s important to remember that there are concrete steps individuals, coalitions, governments, and corporations can take to fight food insecurity and hunger worldwide. But it all starts at home, in your community. Access to safe, healthy, and culturally appropriate food is a basic human right that millions of people lack. So today, I challenge you to find one way that you can contribute to the fight to end hunger in your community. Whether you choose to connect with your local coalition working on food access, buy local, or commit to wasting less, every action you take can have a positive impact. What will you do?
Community Health Training Institute. “Coalitions.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. https://hriainstitute.org/coalitions.
Feeding America. “Food Insecurity in the United States.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. https://map.feedingamerica.org.
Feeding America. “Hunger in Massachusetts.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/massachusetts.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Recipe for a Healthy Life.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/take-action/en/.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “What can Governments and Institutions do to Help Achieve Healthy Diets and #ZeroHunger?” Accessed October 1st, 2019. http://www.fao.org/3/ca5483en/ca5483en.pdf.
Kennedy, Merrit. “USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing.” NPR, May 19th, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/05/19/612063389/usda-unveils-prototypes-for-gmo-food-labels-and-theyre-confusing.
OXFAM. “World Food Day.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. https://www.oxfamamerica.org/take-action/events/world-food-day/.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Food Waste FAQs.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs.
U.S. News & World Report. “The 10 Healthiest States.” Accessed October 1st, 2019. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/slideshows/the-10-healthiest-states-in-the-us?onepage.