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Food Poverty and Hunger in America

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Food poverty is beginning to reach a higher prevalence in the United States as children and families struggle to have adequate meals each day. Access to a healthy grocery store and good local food sources might seem like normality for many people, but the reality is that many households are lacking a balanced diet due to their own poverty or the specific poverty in their area. For those living in Mississippi, food poverty is an epidemic concerning the lives of many families. Specifically, Mississippi has been the hungriest state in America for the past nine years, and their problem has become so severe that 20% of the population in Mississippi is experiencing some form of food insecurity in their household (Sobel 2018). There has to be more of a focus in communities about working together to solve food hunger issues together and to eliminate a problem that should be under control with the amount of food that gets wasted every day.

Food insecurity​ ​is the lack of nutritionally adequate food sources and an overall very poor dietary intake (Sobel 2018). These circumstances come from severe poverty and in some cases the area that a person is living in. This poverty causes families to rely on help from the government to afford groceries each week. With the amount given from these resources, most families are only able to afford the bare minimum in food purchases. Since they have to rely on the minimum, they buy the cheapest foods available at the market. Growing children must be maintaining a healthy and consistent diet and when these families struggle to maintain proper nourishment there can be major physical and psychological damages. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to experience health problems such as obesity, oral health conditions, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems (Food Research and Action Center 2018). The problem of obesity comes because these children do not have access to healthy food sources either due to the area they live in or because of the food that they can afford. The cheapest food in the supermarket is often the highest in sugar and carb intake so many families have to rely on those options to somehow create 3 meals a day for their families. Foods such as instant noodles, chips, pasta, and other high carb and sugar foods become dietary staples which can have really negative effects on the children consuming them. Obesity is higher among those living in poverty because of the effects the unhealthy food options have on them (Food Research and Action Center 2018). These health risks start when they are children but often will carry into adulthood meaning the health effects are very long-lasting and hard to get rid of. Poverty actually reduces life expectancy because of the constant stress and health implications faced daily (Hartline-Grafton and Hayes 2016). Due to these reasons, it has become crucial that children growing up in poverty have access to better diets at a young age because of the severe health implications that will then continue into adulthood. Children experiencing food poverty are also more likely to be sick and require hospitalization more frequently, something that these families can not afford. They also have a much higher chance of being obese because they are eating such unhealthy foods in high quantities. It’s very surprising to recognize that obesity is often a problem faced by those experiencing food poverty because society often assumes that those who are bigger in weight have more to eat. Especially with young children growing up in this environment, they will be more likely to continue the cycle of poverty because it will be harder to get out of after facing all of these numerous health problems and conditions. Experiencing childhood obesity will often carry itself over to adulthood meaning these children are being set up for a harder life due to the poverty of their families growing up. “More than 600,000 Mississippians or approximately 20% of the state’s residents had limited or uncertain access to healthy meals in 2016” (Rozier 2018). The numbers in recent data continue to mark Mississippi as experiencing the most poverty in the United States, and studies are continuously trying to figure out why this could be. “573,610 individuals in the state of Mississippi are experiencing some form of food poverty and 163,530 of them are children” (Feeding America 2019). A lot of this is due to the high amounts of unemployment in the state, meaning that many of the people living there do not have a secure and adequate paycheck to live sufficiently. They also have a high amount of rural areas that do not have access to many jobs that are close by. By living in rural areas, residents sometimes do not have access to grocery stores that supply healthy food sources. Sometimes they have to drive miles away to even find a good grocery store which means that it costs them more to travel for healthy food options. In some cases, those living in poverty might not have access to a car meaning they would have no way to get to these grocery stores. Areas such as these are known as “food deserts” because there is a lack of grocery stores, fresh farming, and access to food options like fruits and vegetables that are needed to support a healthy diet (Feeding America 2018). In these food deserts, they will often have small stores that will usually sell food that is high in sugar and carbs so they lack the nutritional value that a growing child would need. Mississippi in particular has many food desert areas which are why they have such a high level of food poverty throughout the state (Rozier 2019). Even with SNAP benefits from the government, these families still do not have enough to feed a whole family with nutritional and lasting food (Feeding America 2018). Every single day in America, untouched food from restaurants, grocery stores, homes, and everyday life gets thrown away before it is consumed or before it has gone bad. When you put it into perspective, imagine in your own life how much food you see wasted daily.People have become very comfortable with the concept of ordering too much food and not finishing it, and this problem is startling considering how many Americans are going hungry every single day. The problem of food waste does not make sense when you put it like this. Why should we be wasting good, healthy food when there are individuals who cannot afford meals every day? It seems to not make sense when we consider how this food could be going to good use but instead ends up in the trash. In grocery stores specifically, most of the food going to waste is fruits and vegetables, which I found to be alarming considering that these are the types of foods that those living in poverty need the most. Once the fruit is deemed to not look attractive to consumers, the store often just throws it away because they assume it will not be purchased. As communities, there needs to be a stronger focus on the types of food wasted and the ways that it could be utilized in more efficient ways. Supermarkets that specifically sell goods in larger quantities are greatly contributing to this problem because the food is often then left to rot if it does not get eaten. If communities could become more focused on the specific problem of food poverty in their area, many of the food that is not eaten would not go to waste and instead help struggling families to receive valuable meals. Especially throughout churches in Mississippi, there should be a stronger emphasis on feeding the poor in communities nearby or directly in their towns. Churches can often feel like a safe spot for those seeking help because they can feel non-judgemental and more personalized than that of a food kitchen or a food bank. Church communities are often dedicated to feeding the hungry so by making these organizations more widespread there can be better opportunities for those experiencing food poverty specifically in the hungriest state of Mississippi.

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In the United States, there needs to be a stronger focus on access to food for everyone. Areas that lack grocery stores and fruits and vegetables should be specifically targeted with reform because these are the places that are experiencing poverty the most. There is no reason that so much food should be wasted regularly while children are missing out on even 2 meals per day. Churches and private charity organizations have the opportunity to specifically help these families. There comes to be a certain responsibility within the nearby community to be helping their neighbors. In a country like America, where people are living with billions of dollars, there should be no children starving at the end of the day. It is not ethical to waste so much food if there are people with not enough food at all. When considering justice in this situation, how can people be living with such few resources if there is an obvious opportunity for them to be living good lives? Every person should have the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and when these children have to grow up in these conditions that will directly affect their health for the rest of their life, it is not fair to put them through that. Children born into poverty and those born into wealth should not be so vastly different. Their differences come when one child is raised with enough resources to grow and flourish and the other does not have the same advantage. By putting so many children at a disadvantage, we are not maximizing the full potential of our country and how these children could flourish if given the correct nourishment during growing. Food poverty is playing a crucial role in this because of the multitude of health effects that come from not receiving proper nutrition as a child and how this poverty carries into adulthood.

Food poverty in America continues to be a growing problem as the prevalence of food deserts continues and with the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables being much more expensive than that of unhealthy food. As a larger community, there needs to be deep consideration of the epidemic of food poverty throughout our country. Churches, companies, organizations, and individuals should focus on the amount of food wasted daily and consider how that food has the possibility to be used.

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