What Is Food Insecurity?

Some of you may have heard about or read about “food deserts” and “food insecurity” but are not quite sure what these terms mean or encompass. Yet, they are something that affect many families in America, including many Native American families on and off the reservations on a daily basis.

Food deserts are:

“…urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”

9-food-desert-http-cronkitenews.asu.edu-assets-images11-12-9-food-desert-graphic-full.jpggraphic-fullAccording to the USDA, a rural food desert is a community wherein a third of its population is 10 miles or more from a large grocery store. Much work is being done to help improve access to healthy, affordable foods in food deserts and to decrease food insecurity.

Food insecurity “is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food, according to the USDA, and can lead to a condition called hunger, distinguished as “an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.” Hunger often manifests itself in sickness, pain and physiological discomfort.

Food insecurity is definitely a challenge affecting 23% of Native Americans living on remote reservations at a much higher rate than any other group in the United States. This might be a little known fact since people often expect and thus look to developing countries to be the hardest hit by food insecurity and hunger.

As I mentioned in another blog on social equity, I know first-hand the issue of food insecurity and hunger, and it is important to me that people realize these aren’t only issues in developing countries… they exist here in our own country.

The food insecurity on the reservations is, in part, due to well over 100 years of federal policy that have left many tribes with limited access to arable land, extreme poverty and all the social conditions that accompany such poverty. This perfect storm has also contributed to what we know as “food deserts” on many Indian reservations.

Annually, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) delivers about $5 million worth of food and water to reservations across the Northern Plains and Southwest regions of the U.S.  PWNA’s food relieves the stress of food insecurity for about 140,000 Native American Elders, families and children. Among them are homebound Elders on the reservations. Last year when we rode along on some home deliveries with June, a partner from the Cameron Senior Center, it was clear the Elders were grateful for the food as well as the company and that PWNA’s food provisions helped improve the quality of available food and provide some immediate relief from food insecurity.

So, although poverty and economic stress coupled with limited access to nutrient-dense foods can cause perilous conditions, industrious steps are being made by community leaders on the reservations and by generous outside organizations and individuals with the desire to help.

Next we will talk more about “food sovereignty” and addressing sustainable solutions to food sovereignty on Native lands.

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  1. Posted July 29, 2015 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Very nice and informative post.

  2. Charles
    Posted September 15, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I have a plan to help with food deserts but I’ve no way of proposing it to a tribe or group. Any suggestions?

    • Posted September 15, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Charles, thanks for your question. PWNA supports tribes with food sovereignty projects that they lead and have under way in tribal communities. We may be able to make some suggestions if you can send us a little more info about your idea. Just a general idea of what it entails is enough. Please email that to blog@nativepartnership.org. Thank you.

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