You've probably heard the statistic that nearly 15 percent of households experience food insecurity in the US - a percentage that may make you wonder what you can do to make a difference.
As we explained in the first two posts in this series, food insecurity is a sustainability issue that can be lessened by listening to those most impacted by insecurity and by helping to meet their needs through both large-scale and grassroots efforts. This is only possible when people like you step up to raise awareness, cast ballots and dedicate your time to fixing our broken food system. Even the smallest changes in our everyday behavior can snowball to help turn things around.
The range of ways to get involved in the list below is broad, so you're likely to find a few options to step up your impact! We've also included our top policy-related picks to address food access - POTUS, are you listening?
Top Six Ways to Help Address Food Access Problems In Your Community
Keep it local by helping with food access issues in your own community. Here are our top picks for what you can do to make real change in your own neighborhood:
1. Get to know the issues
The first step in helping out on any issue is to get up to speed. To learn more about food access issues in the US, check out resources like Civil Eats, Food First or Food Empowerment Project, sign up for newsletters from and attend events run by food justice organizations in your area and listen to those who've had first hand experiences with food insecurity. A Place at the Table is another great resource.
2. Share the issues on social media
We can't fix food access issues alone - we need all hands on deck! Something as simple as posting an article or opinion on Facebook or Twitter could spark awareness and action in others. Make food security a part of your language, and others will take note.
3. Vote locally
It may seem basic, but to change the food system it's critical that you exercise your right to vote. When you help elect national and local politicians who share your values, you're making a difference. It's easy to find information about national policy, but take some time to familiarize yourself with local policy efforts as well, keep up with local and congressional elections and make sure your voice is heard by joining community discussions and boards. Not registered to vote? Sign up today!
4. Find out where your representative stands on food issues
Through its Scorecard, Food Policy Action provides objective, factual information about how members of Congress are voting on the most important food legislation. The Scorecard reflects the consensus of top food policy experts who identify the key food policy votes and legislation each year. Want to know if your elected officials are working for sensible food policies? FPA's Scorecard can easily be used to identify where your member of Congress stands on important issues like cage size, GMO labeling and antibiotic use laws.
5. Support an organization working on improving food access
You can make a big difference by furthering the work of organizations already on the ground through funding or volunteering time. Invest money in your community by donating to a group that bolsters food security in your area or fund a Kickstarter campaign. You can search for volunteering opportunities by searching for food justice organizations near you, or by searching website like NYC Cares or Volunteer Match. One idea: volunteer at a local emergency food provider. These organizations, intended to serve as safety nets, are not a solution to food insecurity - but in the absence of better public policy, they now play a critical role in addressing food access for millions of Americans.
6. Get a job with a food access organization
Really passionate about food access issues? A career in advocacy is sure to be personally rewarding when real change happens in your community. Jobs focused on reducing food insecurity are diverse, with careers ranging from urban farming, to social work and public health, to leading big organizations or writing policy. Visit sites like Good Food Jobs and Idealist for job postings, join Tuft's ComFoodJobs listserv or look for internships at organizations around the country.
Top Six Ways to Address Food Access Problems Nationally
There are a lot of things our elected officials can do to help America fix its food access and insecurity problems. Our picks for policy-based solutions include:
1. Raise the minimum wage
Access to healthy food would be a lot easier if low-income workers had higher wages. Making the job market better and putting more money in people's pockets will help improve the purchasing power of families struggling to put healthy food on their families' tables.
2. Protect and expand public safety net programs
When people's wages aren't enough to make ends meet, federal safety net programs are critical. Programs like unemployment insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits are all lifelines for low-income families living check to check and should be retained and strengthened. Furthermore, several studies indicate that when low-income families on food stamps are given additional financial resources to purchase healthy food, their consumption of fruits and vegetables increases dramatically.
3. Invest in infrastructure in low-income areas
Almost 30 million people in the US don't have adequate access to healthy food retailers. Research has shown that the neighborhood you live in has a profound impact on the food that you eat. Numerous studies have also shown a direct connection between access to healthy food, healthy diets and improved health outcomes. Improving zoning laws, offering financial incentives to developers to build full-service supermarkets and setting up farmers markets that accept SNAP and other federal nutrition program benefits have both proven to be effective strategies for improving healthy food access in in low income neighborhoods.
4. Provide access to community and school gardens
Investing in programs that provide children with access to a garden at school may be linked to improved eating habits, higher test scores and lowered rates of obesity in kids. In addition, building community gardens in low income neighborhoods not only increases property values in the neighborhoods where they are located but also saves gardeners money on produce and helps improve the diets of gardeners' entire families.
5. Expand nutrition education programs for children and low-income families
A study by the USDA showed that their Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (ENFNEP) successfully improved diets among low-income youth and families with small children. In addition, the study found that every dollar spent on the program returned a benefit of $10.75 in reduced long-term health care costs. ENFNEP now reaches half a million low-income families each year.
6. Help register people to vote
Registering and helping people to vote is a great way to empower them to make positive changes within their own communities. There are many amazing individuals and organizations working in low-income communities fighting for equitable food access, but they are underrepresented in political spheres. The effort to correct today's system by giving communities the power to make decisions about their own food system is known as food justice. We cannot reform our food system without ensuring food justice for all.
Already an advocate for change? Great! Share this these lists with friends and encourage them to join the effort for a more equitable food system, too!