It’s hard to know what food insecurity feels like if you’ve never been hungry. But even if you’ve never experienced hunger, there are so many ways that hunger is your problem, even if you feel like it’s something that isn’t affecting your everyday life. The numbers are shocking and they don’t lie — if hunger isn’t affecting you and your family, it’s still impacting millions of other humans, and it’s something we all need to be actively concerned about.
According to Feeding America, 69 percent of American families have had to decide between paying a utility bill or filling the fridge. Another 66 percent have weighed the outcomes of paying for medial care or food. When it comes to rent, over half of Americans have had to choose between getting evicted or buying groceries. All of these stats mean that every single day, you’re likely walking by another human being who has no idea when they’re going to eat their next meal.
Worldwide, food insecurity is an even larger problem.
One in seven people go to bed hungry all over the world not knowing where their next meal will come from. Still, one third of actual food resources go to waste every single day. Hunger is an issue that stems from climate change, economic instability, and straight-up bad thinking on the part of legislators when it comes to deciding who deserves resources that allow them to access and afford food.
The Food and Agriculture Organization, an arm of the United Nations that deals with ensuring people have enough to eat all over the world, only considers people as “food secure” when everyone “at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” If you think hunger is something that will never come close to affecting your life, you’re way wrong.
Here are a few reasons that hunger is everyone’s problem.
1A lot of food insecurity is climate change related.
There are a lot of effects of climate change that can seem really far away. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and figure that once a glacier totally melts and takes over the land mass you call home, you’ll be long gone. Alas, there are more pertinent reasons to fight for environmental causes, since most of the food insecurity all over the world is due to climate related disasters. According to the World Food Program, almost half of their work over the past decade has been in response to climate-related disasters, costing upwards of $23 billion dollars.
That work is mainly done by reinforcing communities that would be the most susceptible to disaster and helping them prepare for a lack of food, whether that means finding new ways to grow crops or amassing food supplies in the wake of a disaster.
There are a lot of ways for food-secure people to stop climate change, even if that just means voting for candidates who won’t further destroy the environment and will fight to slow some of the effects of climate change. You can also donate to organizations that ensure food security worldwide.
It’s important to mention that all of this is happening right here in America, in addition to other places around the world. Most scientists have concluded that Hurricane Harvey and Irma, for example, had more devastating effects due to climate change. When a storm decimates a community that’s already economically insecure, food is very much at risk.
2Food insecurity costs everyone.
In America, at least, food insecurity is complicated. We have farms, grocery stores, and an infrastructure that, for now at least, is in stable enough to distribute food to even the most remote places in the country. Yet, 41.2 million American households were food insecure in 2016, according the United States Department of Agriculture. Of those 41 million, 10.8 million adults have “low food security” and 6.5 million children don’t go to sleep at night knowing that breakfast is coming. Those numbers have not changed much over the past five years, according to federal data.
Food insecurity costs Americans $160 billion every year, according to the Bread For The World Institute. Those costs aren’t just from ensuring that people get assistance to buy food. American taxpayers also end up paying for the health care costs, including mental health, that come along with food insecurity.
3When kids are hungry, they fall behind in school.
Hunger affects adults and children alike, but when a child grows up in a food insecure household, their chances of succeeding in school are so much worse than those kids that go home to food secure houses. It’s not just that their bellies are empty, either. Kids who grow up in food insecure households are more likely to exhibit learning disabilities, repeat a grade in elementary school, and have more social and behavioral problems, according to Feeding America’s research.
Families living in poverty in America are often forced to buy the cheapest food, which is not always the healthiest food. There are programs that ensure kids can get at least one hot, healthy meal a day in American schools, but that’s nowhere near enough. (And when school’s out, or closed for some reason, there aren’t many other options.) When you’re hungry, you can’t focus on school. That can have a lasting effect on students as they get older.
Coming from a food insecure household means a student starts at a greater disadvantage than the rest of their peers, and as they get older, it’s harder to catch up. When Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the Department of Education, joked about students getting “free lunches,” she was playing with their futures. Last year, Republicans offered up a bill that could potentially take away funding for schools to provide healthy meals for students, further endangering their food insecurity.
Between breaking the cycle of economic inequality or fighting for the environment, there are a lot of ways that hunger is everyone’s problem.