Student Engagement Ambassador, Florencia, discusses some reasons underpinning food poverty and ways that we can educate ourselves and take steps towards wasting less.
May 28th marks World Hunger Day 2022. This day is part of the 2011 Hunger Project and aims to raise awareness of the lack of access to food affecting millions of people all around the world.
In this blog, I explain a few of the main issues affecting hunger worldwide. This includes topics beyond direct access to food, such as food quality and sanitation, as well as things you can do if you want to help.
Firstly, I must make a disclaimer. I am lucky to have not experienced severe food insecurity growing up. I cannot explain what it feels like not being able to access food or feed your family. This blog explores topics I have studied related to food insecurity but does not mean to tell a personal story.
To begin, it is important to understand: What does the project understand as hunger? Contrary to popular belief, hunger is not just about food, but it is intrinsically related to multiple areas of life. This includes food safety and quality, economic situation, sanitation, and level of education, among others.
According to the World Hunger Day website, 2.4 billion people worldwide don’t have proper access to food. This likely increased as a consequence of the pandemic and war in Ukraine.
What are the issues resulting in world hunger?
Access to food:
The most direct form of hunger is literal access to food. This can happen due to physical limitations such as living in an area with no resources. Examples of this can be seen all over the world. In the US, there are rural areas where accessing food can be extremely complicated. These areas are referred to as “food deserts”. Living in these areas means it requires a lot of travelling to reach a place with fresh food(1) .
Access to food can also be limited due to policies related to food storage and transportation like Covid-19 restrictions and trade policies. This can be observed in multiple instances in history. For example, Cuba has experienced an embargo since 1960 (2), which limited its ability to import goods for decades. More recently, multiple issues related to trade policies and food safety have caused a shortage of baby formula in the US(3).
Low-quality food and economic limitations:
Sometimes, food is available but good nutritional content is not. This is due to multiple issues. Unregulated food production policies, (which vary from country to country,) may lead to low-nutrition foods being cheaper and more readily available than nutritious foods. For example, shelf-stable foods that require no refrigeration are cheaper than fresh food. However, they can be rich in carbohydrates, sugar, and sodium, resulting in a poor diet. The same can be said for “junk” food. This can be further complicated by the actions of lobbies seeking to deregulate the industry to sell their products (4).
Economic limitations can also play a significant role. For example, the increased cost of living in the UK has forced a lot of people to change their shopping habits by searching for cheaper brands. This leads to a decrease in food access and quality. All of these problems have a consequence on people’s health and life expectancy.
Access to clean water is also a matter that deeply affects world hunger. If the food you eat is not safe, because it has been made or washed with contaminated water, it can have significant effects on health. Faecal-oral diseases are particularly related to the gastric system and the ability of the body to intake food (5). This was observed in the past in multiple parts of the world. During the ’90s, an epidemic of cholera hit Latin America, affecting specifically people without access to clean water (6).
The shortage of baby formula shows a more current example of this problem. Making homemade formula, diluting the one you have, or using contaminated water to cook it can lead to serious health consequences for babies whose immune systems are not fully developed (7).
As shown, having a healthy diet depends on multiple variables like access to affordable, nutritious, safe food. However, it also depends on other less directly related ones. Having the time to prepare food, having a place to store food, and having the knowledge and capacity to cook food. These are all issues which also affect people’s diet. People with disabilities may not have the energy or access necessary to prepare food. People working very long shifts may not have the time to cook for themselves, let alone their families. People with housing insecurity do not have the space to store or cook food. People with food restrictions may not have the access or money to buy the food they need (which is often more expensive). All of these problems can occur isolated or together, and they result in increased social inequalities.
Global crises affect everything too:
In the same way many may not pay attention to all the personal issues affecting people’s ability to get food, it is easy to also forget about the larger picture. Global issues such as the current climate crisis, the pandemic (likely linked to the climate crisis), Brexit (in the UK), and wars worldwide affect people’s ability to grow and access food.
Furthermore, food production and access are marked by racism and imperialistic practices, which affect disadvantaged countries the most, and increase global inequality (8).
It is easy after reading this blog to believe that the situation is unfixable. I would not blame anybody who felt discouraged. However, I do not think there is anything to be done. There are many ways we can collaborate and become involved in projects tackling hunger:
So, what can I do?
I believe the first thing to do is to become informed. For many, the issues are clear as they are affecting them directly. However, I think the more information one can get, the more understanding of the general situation and the effort to curtail it you can access. Below are some useful links.
The Hunger Project: This project has a lot of information on local campaigns all around the world to end hunger. The project has chapters in multiple countries. The Hunger Project – Investing in people. Empowering change.
World Hunger Day 2022: The topic of the day, created by The Hunger Project also has a lot of valuable information: http://worldhungerday.org
Unicef has multiple projects related to food insecurity for example Good water, sanitation and hygiene for every child.
World Health Organization has written a report relating the pandemic and an increase in world hunger: UN report: Pandemic year marked by spike in world hunger.
For smaller and more local options, many supermarkets offer the possibility of donating food. Similarly, apps like OLIO may provide the option of donating or accessing free food.
Furthermore, it is fundamental to remember that although individual actions can go a long way, it is imperative to demand better legislation from our governments. To vote for candidates who take these issues seriously and campaign for more equality and a better distribution of resources.