By Hania Kantzer, Saki Male, Alaina Parker, Akshan Sameullah
What is food insecurity? One might think that only people who are starving experience food insecurity. However, there are many ways in which individuals face food insecurity. The USDA defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” According to the United Nations, a person is food insecure when they “lack regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.” These definitions demonstrate the diversity of experiences that food insecure people have, like having to skip a couple meals, having inconsistent food sources, a lack of cultural diversity in the meals and ingredients available, or only having access to unhealthy food. Though these experiences may not all be as visible as hunger and starvation, they affect the lives and health of many North Carolinians across geographical, racial, ethnic, and gender categories. The following excerpts of interviews from the Stories to Save Lives project show a small part of these diverse experiences of food insecurity.
The Stories to Save Lives interviews demonstrate the food insecurity issue of long-term mental health effects. Nell Buwell discusses how growing up she faced trouble eating properly and then later had trouble eating healthily as an adult. Carla Norwood describes how those in rural areas have a different development in confidence with nutritional understanding that affects their likelihood of being food secure in the future. Andrea William-Morales talks about how those who are more affected by the price of healthy foods lean towards fast food mainly because of how much cheaper it is for them. This activity can lead to obesity which is associated with many negative psychological effects such as anxiety and depression.
Andrea William-Morales discusses her community’s struggle with diabetes and cholesterol and ties it to a lack of education and poverty. Additionally, she explains that unhealthy food is cheaper than healthier food, so people purchase that. This results in many health issues, such as diet-related chronic illness, within her community. Susan Villnave talks about low-income individuals in her community having a higher rate of uncontrolled diabetes because they are eating what they can afford, which is unhealthy food. These interviews highlight how food insecurity contributes to the onset or progression of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Furthermore, a lack of cultural and food biodiversity, such as limited access to traditional foods, and nutritionally diverse meals, and a lack of options for those with dietary restrictions all contribute to food insecurity, ultimately exacerbating racial and socio-economic inequalities. The perspectives of Nellene Richardson, who expresses a need for wanting to see more diverse options for meals and ingredients in grocery stores, and Annie Martinie, who points out the struggle to market nutritious foods but at an affordable price by farmers market all emphasize how the lack of diversity in food, both cultural and bio, greatly contribute to food insecurity.
It can be seen throughout these selected excerpts of interviews that the relationship between food and health is a community-based relationship. In her interview, Amy (a pseudonym) discusses health as a quality of the community more than an individual quality and mentions an important aspect of food insecurity: access to healthful food. The inability to afford fruits and vegetables, to Amy, are what is stopping her community from being healthy. Food is not just a source of unhealthiness, however. Growing up, Ebony Tally-Brames, another interviewee, remembers her grandparents’ food-based remedies to combat colds. In the selected excerpt for this playlist, Ebony talks about feeling responsible not just for staying healthy herself, but for keeping her community healthy as well. When her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, her family searched for ways to improve her condition. Because of that experience as a caretaker, Ebony, who runs a restaurant, talks about staying mindful of the healthiness of the food she serves. To her, these preventative measures of eating healthy could save her and her customers from her grandmother’s fate.