The Face Of Food Insecurity In America May Be Different Than You Think

05/26/2015 04:24 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

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By Lauren Bush Lauren

Lauren Bush Lauren is the Founder and CEO of The FEED Foundation.

In our land of plenty, it is hard to believe that hunger exists in every county in the United States. 49 million Americans are food insecure. What this really means is that that one in six people in our country do not have access to adequate nutrition that our bodies and minds need to be active and alert. Ask yourself: how can someone effectively learn, work or care for his or her family without this basic human need fulfilled?

Now, think about who comes to mind when you think of the "one in six."

For a long time, I operated under the misconception that those unable to afford food for themselves or their families were mostly all unemployed, and therefore qualified for government assistance in accessing food aid. Perhaps someone simply could not work because of a disability or family care situation that kept her at home.
Obviously these would be extremely trying circumstances, but at least there was help available.

What I didn't realize is that a majority of food insecure households in America have had someone in the labor force in the past year (54 percent to be exact). When I learned this, it changed how I thought about the important issue of food access in America. In a country that promises opportunity, shouldn't someone who is working hard--sometimes even at multiple jobs--at the very least have the assurance of access to healthy food for his or her family?

The Mapping the Meal Gap study recently released by Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger relief charity and FEED's U.S. giving partner, revealed that "nationally, 26 percent of food-insecure individuals are above 185 percent of the poverty line and typically are ineligible for most food assistance programs." Many of these families are living in metropolitan areas with incomes higher than the national average.

When it comes to the conversation around food access, this is a population that often gets overlooked. They are employed with incomes that, according to our federal standards, should be more than enough to get by. These families don't come to mind when we think about the face of hunger in America. But they are living among us--perhaps living in our neighborhoods and working in our buildings--and it's time we start noticing them. So what can we do to ensure they don't slip through the cracks?

First, we can donate to domestic hunger charities like Feeding America that are offering food aid to families in need, no matter their income levels. I know first hand from speaking to countless parents and individuals coming to soup kitchens and pantries for help that people don't ask for help unless they truly need it. We need to treat them with dignity in that moment of temporary assistance, knowing that if one American is struggling, we all are.

Second, we can challenge dated policies that continue to keep the underemployed from receiving the aid they need to survive in high cost cities. Mapping the Meal Gap notes that poverty line thresholds have mostly remained unchanged since 1963. At that time, the income ceiling to determine if government aid was needed was set by multiplying food costs for a 'bare bones' subsistence meal plan by three. Obviously, family budgets look very different than they did fifty years ago. So why is this still the way we determine if someone is eligible for food aid?

At FEED, we grapple with food insecurity in our country every day as we think about how we can use commerce to activate more Americans in the cause.

Over the last eight years, we've seen the power of voting with one's wallet - purchasing products from companies that have deep-rooted commitments to improving supply chains or access to education, health, and food. We can continue to move the needle on bringing healthy food to millions more Americans by supporting brands and chains that believe in incorporating nutritious ingredients in everyday, affordable fare. Together, we can FEED the USA.

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