Ten Years Later...Are We Winning the War on Food Insecurity?

I finish my time here in Raleigh this week. It's been a tremendous, fabulous, awesomeous experience. Easily one of the best 13 or so months of my life. The work has been gratifying, the people have been welcoming and committed to the cause of getting more food to more people.

The only bad thing? Well...it's that food insecurity is still a problem we still face. 

In the fall of 2007 I was privileged enough to lead the SHARE Food Network, a food distribution program where people paid about $20 and received about $50 worth of groceries. People worked with their local churches, or civic groups to pay for and pick up their food, which we bought in bulk, then with the help of volunteers, broke the food down to manage the distribution to over 500 participating groups. We did this once a month and the team I was a part of was extremely dedicated and hard working.

Over the course of four years, we saw the rise of more people on SNAP, but less people buying our packages. Immigration was growing, so we came together to create an outreach program to meet the needs of those immigrant communities. By 2011 you could look at our small gains, look at our continued struggles and wonder in the big picture, did we make a difference? 

Fast forward to 2015, where I am directing a capital campaign for a food bank that is all about getting "more". We need more space, more programs, and more resources.  More, more, more. By the end of this year the food bank will have moved into a fantastic renovated space. We will see the "more" that we worked so hard for very soon. 

But in almost ten years I have to ask...are we winning the battle against food insecurity?

We've seen the stats. More people are becoming more food insecure. We have a wealth gap that continues to grow. We have corporations who muscle out smaller competition, only to turn around and abandon communities creating bigger messes than the ones they sought to resolve. 

Is this winning? I think not. And while solving this issue is beyond my elementary experience on the subject, I offer three very simple suggestions that I think people can get behind.   

1. You must pair food resources with with other wrap around services.

We must, MUST move beyond giving people fish to eat. We have to have a strategic plan to give people the resources for them to purchase the fish, then we must help them take that fish to their home, cook it and eat it. Food programs must be more than just "food" programs. The days of just handing out cans are long over. Handing out cans is important, don't get me wrong, but that's for emergencies. We need to set priorities and get our collective hands dirty. 

2. Let's start subsidizing produce. 

Why is it cheaper to buy a bag of chips then it is to purchase five apples? The government needs to prioritize what it supports financially and progress towards a 21st century world where economies and public health concerns are not mutually exclusive. Congress is such a mess I don't see how we accomplish this, but maybe a little less focus on social issues and a little more focus on important ones that affect our health and well being.

3. Raise awareness, but don't play "food insecure." 

Awareness is good. Awareness followed by action makes the most difference. That being said, please don't ever take on a SNAP Food Challenge, or anything that asks you to walk in someone else's shoes. Empathy can be accomplished without pretending to literally trying feel someone else's pain. 

While a nice thought, pretending to be food insecure for a few days should not be the most effective way get you motivated to work on this issue. If you want to take on a challenge, take on one that reduces food waste. You and I actually cause this problem, so focus on the real and not on the pretend. 

I get that this is a tough, complicated issue. But these are three things that I try and focus on. I support programs that feed, clothe, house and job train people. I need to work a little more on challenging Congress to pass an effective Farm Bill (if anyone has any good ideas on this one, please let me know). I certainly am aware of the food I waste and will continue to reduce what I purchase and throw away. 

So I leave Raleigh grateful for my time here and the chance to enter back into an issue I was heavily involved with a long time ago.  I still remain hopeful that together we can help our neighbors in need be a little more food secure. Let's hope the next ten years moves the needle "more" in that direction.