Every holiday season, I have dreams about all the delectable foods that I plan to gorge on with my family; from the turkey and dressing, to my grandmother’s peach cobbler, I absolutely love holiday food. With football playing on the television and the multitude of options that my family is fortunate enough to put on the table each year, it’s very easy to forget about the other families of our community, who may not be as blessed. Unfortunately, as Athens-Clarke County continues to suffer from extremely high rates of poverty1, one of the main consequences is food insecurity and hunger.
Food insecurity is defined as a lack of having regular access to a sufficient quantity of safe, nutritious food, which allows a person to lead an active, healthy life. This not a problem that only occurs in developing countries or for homeless people, it impacts the lives of people of all ages in our community and extends far beyond the holiday season.
In the case of children and elderly people, the inconsistency of nutritious and sufficient food can have detrimental effects. For children, very low household food insecurity is associated with lower academic achievement2. With lower academic achievement, it becomes harder for these children to become more highly educated, thus lowering their ability to escape poverty and food insecurity. For older adults, food insecurity is associated with frailty, which is a condition that renders the older adult at a higher risk of developing adverse outcomes, like death or chronic disease3.
While it may seem contradictory, food insecurity is also a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic that is impacting the health of many Americans4. People that suffer from food insecurity are usually impoverished and are more likely to use their limited income to purchase unhealthy, calorically-dense foods that satiate their cravings, but do not contribute positively to their health. This type of correlation is displayed in almost all underprivileged communities, especially the African-American population that suffers from a disproportionally higher rate of diabetes (1.7 times higher than non-Hispanic whites)5.
Thankfully, Athens has a variety of resources that are working to combat hunger and food insecurity. John Becker, President & CEO of Food Bank Northeast Georgia6, commented on the current state of food insecurity:
“While the economy is certainly improving in general, the folks who have been left behind are still suffering. Food insecurity is debilitating in the sense that people experiencing it cannot think past their basic needs and therefore cannot fully participate in a growing economy. We need to continue to provide resources to keep people from falling into the death spiral of poverty and simultaneously work to raise folks out of despair so that they can build their skills and hence their capacity to provide for themselves and their families. We can end hunger; The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia is only a few years away. It will take focus. However, it is worth the effort because the benefits of a generation of children who grow to become adults and who are able to attend to their studies because they do not experience food insecurity are immeasurable.”
In addition to the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, children can take advantage of food served by a variety of local community centers like the Rocksprings Park and Community Center7 and the East Athens Community Center8 or a federal school program provides food over the summer9. For older adults, the Athens Community Council on Aging10 and University of Georgia Campus Kitchen11 are terrific resources that work with a variety of businesses within our community to fight food insecurity.
Ultimately, these services are successful because the community works together to support them and they innovatively use food that would normally be wasted. According to Brad Turner, the Campus Kitchen at UGA Coordinator, “We source the majority of food from grocery store surplus and farmer’s markets that would otherwise be discarded. These activities of hunger relief and food recovery are led by UGA students, providing an opportunity for experiential learning around food system and older adults food insecurity.” This ingenuity is a significant reason why this program is successful, even without large donations or tax-payer funding.
If you want to combat food insecurity, please consider volunteer or contributing to these invaluable groups in the Athens community. I guarantee that it’ll make your holiday food taste even better.
To learn more, please follow the links provided:
- Shearer, L. (2016, January 3). Athens-Clarke County poverty rate doubles in 2000s. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from http://onlineathens.com/local-news-mobile/2016-01-03/athens-clarke-county-poverty-rate-doubles-2000s
- Faught, E., Williams, P., Willows, N., Asbridge, M., & Veugelers, P. (2017). The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children. Public Health Nutrition, 20(15), 2778-2785. doi:10.1017/S1368980017001562
- Pérez-Zepeda, M., Castrejón-Pérez, R., Wynne-Bannister, E., & García-Peña, C. (2016). Frailty and food insecurity in older adults. Public Health Nutrition, 19(15), 2844-2849. doi:10.1017/S1368980016000987
- Ryan-Ibarra, S., Sanchez-Vaznaugh, E., Leung, C., & Induni, M. (2017). The relationship between food insecurity and overweight/obesity differs by birthplace and length of US residence. Public Health Nutrition, 20(4), 671-677. doi:10.1017/S1368980016002858
- Treatment and Care for African Americans. (n.d.). Retrieved November 09, 2017, from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/high-risk-populations/treatment-african-americans.html
- Food Bank of Northeast Georgia: http://www.foodbanknega.org or (706)354-8191
- Rocksprings Park and Community Center: https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/2775/Rocksprings-Park-and-Community-Center
- East Athens Community Center: http://www.athensclarkecounty.com/2761/East-Athens-Community-Center
- Federal Summer Food Service Program: https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program
- Athens Community Council on Aging: http://www.accaging.org/seniorhunger/
- UGA Campus Kitchen: https://www.ckuga.org