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Food Security vs Food Insecurity

What is Food Insecurity?

Do you know what’s for dinner tonight? When will you be having your next meal? Are you healthy enough for your body to process this meal?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you’re one of the fortunate people who are food-secure.

In this post, we’ll explore the meaning of food security versus food insecurity and begin to understand how we at Food For Life help fight food insecurity.

Food Security vs Food Insecurity

Food security is the confidence of knowing where and when your next meal will be, and knowing that if you’re hungry, you’ll soon be able to feed yourself. The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

Homeless old man is sitting

On the other hand, food insecurity is the inability to know where and when you’ll next be able to eat. Merriam Webster defines food insecurity as being “unable to consistently access or afford adequate food”

As of 2018, the African continent was home to nearly half of the food insecure people in the world at around 65 million individuals.

What are the four levels of food security?

There are four levels of food security that help determine the severity of the food insecurity someone or a group of individuals might be experiencing.

Level 1: Food Secure.

In this level, you have the means to purchase food whenever you feel the need. You also have easy access to food and don’t need to worry about where or when your next meal will happen.

healthy vegan meals apples and carrot

Level 2: Marginal Food Insecurity.

Those who fall into level two may worry about money being tight and deciding between, for example, paying rent or having a meal. Those in this level rarely seek food bank assistance for help and will often change their spending habits in order to be able to afford the necessities of life such as food and shelter.

Level 3: Moderate Food Insecurity

At level 3, purchasing food is a real concern, particularly right before the next paycheck rolls around. Those in level 3 will likely begin decreasing the quality of the food they buy in order to ensure that they do not go hungry. They’re also more likely to begin seeking assistance to address their food insecurity issue.

Level 4: Severe Food Insecurity

Those who fall into this level will purposely miss meals because they do not have the resources to eat when they are hungry. They will often rely on food banks for the majority of their meals.

What are the elements of food security?

It’s generally accepted that there are four components of food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

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  • Availability means that there is enough food. Some people may reside in areas labeled “food deserts” and therefore simply don’t have access to food which means that they lack availability and would fall into the category of food-insecure.
  • Access means that a person has the resources necessary to purchase or to acquire food. For example, someone may not have enough money to purchase food and pay rent, so they have to decide which one of these basic needs is more vital to survival at the time. Access can also be defined as reliable transportation to and from the store, or a place to get food.
  • Utilization refers to a person’s physical ability to gain energy from the food through natural bodily functions. For example, someone may have a disease that does not allow their body to properly profit from the nutrients they acquire through meals.
  • Stability refers to the idea that the three previous conditions need to be continuous and not sporadic in order for an individual to be food secure. If one year a crop that is a main source of food in a local area is abundant, but has not been in the past years and still may not be in the future, the conditions are not stable enough for the area to be considered food-secure.

Together, these elements mean that a person has the resources necessary to survive and thrive.

What are the main causes of food insecurity?

While an entire thesis could be written on the causes of food insecurity, there are a few main issues that we can look to. A history of persistent problems like poverty, disease, human rights violations, climate change, and food shortage in combination with ever-soaring food prices has greatly contributed to food insecurity in Africa and all over the world.

poor monk is sitting in the street

These issues are evidently major problems themselves and by addressing these problems we can address the root problems of food insecurity.

What are the impacts of food insecurity?

Food insecurity is known to have different effects in developing and developed countries. Within developing countries, the World Health Organization estimates that about 60% of childhood deaths are associated with food insecurity (World Health Organization. "Nutrition Research: Pursuing Sustainable Solutions."). This lack of access to proper nutrition leaves children vulnerable to diseases such as malaria and diarrhea, which is especially dangerous when combined with lack of access to clean water, further increasing the risk of death.

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Another recently discovered impact of food insecurity is domestic violence. According to the Journal of Global Health, 35% of women worldwide have experienced some sort of domestic violence because of food insecurity.

In looking specifically at a survey conducted in Zimbabwe, over half of the female population stated that they had experienced violence that was expected to be a result of food insecurity.

How do you fight food insecurity?

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When we talk about the causes of food insecurity we need to remember that there is no one cause nor is there one effect. The whole cycle is a negative feedback loop, which essentially means that A leads to B which in turn leads to A. For example, think about poverty. Lack of funds leads to food insecurity (through an inability to purchase food) which then leads to poverty (perhaps being unable to work due to starvation). Breaking the loop is incredibly difficult, and it’s not typically a loop that can be broken without outside help, such as that provided by Food For Life.

The United Nations suggests focusing on regional development and cooperating across borders. However, this does not fight the dire food insecurity and starvation issues that are in need of immediate attention, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the best things that you can do to help is donate. Just $10 will feed 20 children and will help them to break out of the negative feedback loop. You can also volunteer your time with our virtual positions. Together, we can help end food insecurity and break the cycle of hunger and poverty.

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