Somewhere out there, a handbook has been handed down from generation to generation that advises parents to instruct their children to clean their plate. The carrot on the stick was that you had to join the clean plate club for this. And the ensuing guilt of not cleaning your plate came with the reminder that there are starving children in Africa.
Could there be any less logic to this house rule? How one child’s overnutrition compensates for another’s (albeit halfway around the world) undernourishment is almost meaningless.
Not once did my parents send the last few morsels of extra food to a starving child in Africa. In fact, they also did not send that food to one of La Plata County’s approximately 6,420 food insecure residents. Never mind the 30 year time difference, you see.
Speaking of donating food, we are approaching the time of year when there is a spike in food supply. Movements aim to reduce food insecurity by increasing food availability – one approach in a complex food system.
Last night, my youngest rushed to the pantry, insisting on loading her backpack with non-perishables to take to school. The intentions were good, but I questioned whether a packet of ramen was the best choice to donate.
Before you rummage through your pantry or grab something off the grocery store shelf, might you consider making a donation that provides food security?
Food security takes food security to the next level. While food security focuses on providing calories, nutrition security emphasizes foods (calories) that also provide nutritional value. Nutritional value refers to the balance of nutrients. Foods with high nutritional value are a good source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein, with limited amounts of added sugar, saturated fat and sodium.
There is a reason that food insecurity in the US presents itself differently than in less developed countries. In underdeveloped parts of the world, severe malnutrition results from lack of access to sufficient calories and protein. This is the face of hunger.
Paradoxically, food insecure people in the US often suffer from obesity (along with related complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease). As counterintuitive as this may seem, it’s easy to understand how food insecurity and obesity interact when you look at the bigger picture of accessibility and affordability.
Financial resources dictate food choices. When you have limited food dollars, you seek to maximize the amount of food that can be purchased with less. Often the cheapest foods are energy dense (high in calories) and low in nutrients. In survival mode, it’s the calories that make the difference.
Community structure and household resources also determine the degree of access to nutritious foods. Accessibility is defined by how far you have to travel to reach a grocery store that sells nutritious foods. You are in a food desert if more than 500 people, or 33% of the population, with a vehicle live more than a mile from a grocery store. That includes La Plata County, according to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas.
As you can see, food insecurity is a combination of what you can afford to buy and the choices you have access to.
Arguably, any food donation is better than nothing. But think of the difference you make by thoughtfully choosing to donate a highly nutritious meal. By doing this, you are making the most valuable contribution. You provide calories needed for immediate survival and provide nutrition to promote good health. Thrive, not just survive.
Nicole Clark is the Family and Consumer Science Agent for the La Plata County Extension Service. Contact her at [email protected] or 382-6461.