In my work, I see more people who want to focus on losing weight rather than gaining weight, so I don’t often stop to think about the problem of hunger.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that hunger is still a big problem in in the United States. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2011 about 50 million Americans were living with food insecurity — 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.
What is food insecurity? It’s the inability to provide adequate food on a consistent basis. For adults, not getting enough food can have harmful effects, but it can be especially harmful for children who need adequate nutrients for proper growth and development.
I’m familiar with the Good Shepherd Food Bank so I know hunger exists in Maine, but to what extent? Maine ranks 18th in the nation and second in New England in terms of food insecurity. Since 2004, the number of Mainers facing hunger has increased 50 percent.
The population of Maine is about 1,328,371 — the food insecurity rate is 14.7 percent of households, or 200,000 people.
Food insecurity can lead to nutrient deficiencies, delayed cognitive development, asthma, decreased immune system function and increased fatigue. A contributing factor to childhood obesity is the lack of access to healthy foods for children living in food-insecure homes.
My office is situated such that I have a big window facing the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant. There is a pretty steady line of cars going through on a daily basis. Fast food once in awhile isn’t a big concern, but eating a quick meal from a fast-food restaurant or a convenience store on a regular basis is expensive and the food is usually higher in fat and sodium and lower in vitamins and minerals. If you were to price the items out compared to what you could purchase at a grocery store, it wouldn’t be such a deal.
When grocery shopping, nutrient-rich staples such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, steel-cut oats, corn tortillas, dried beans and peanut butter are good choices. Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy choices but can be expensive if not on sale. Canned fruit packed in its own juice or frozen fruit or vegetables are great choices. If you buy canned vegetables, drain and rinse them to remove sodium before consuming.
If you are affected by food insecurity, there are many resources available to help. One way to find them is to dial 211 and ask for resources in your area. Food banks, soup kitchens, etc., are located in communities throughout the state, usually staffed by volunteers. If you don’t live with food insecurity but want to help others who do, perhaps volunteering your time at a food kitchen or donating money or food to these organizations would be within your means. Every little bit helps.
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program previously called the food stamp program. SNAP provides $5 a day to help those unable to purchase food. To see what it is like, try to eat off of $5 a day. You’ll get a little more perspective on how difficult it can be for some families in America and right in your home town. Remember that $5 has to include your morning coffee.
Want to do more? The Good Shepherd Food Bank has a calendar showing 30 Ways in 30 Days to help solve hunger. Some of the suggestions include:
- Volunteer at a local food pantry or meal site.
- Watch the films “A Place at the Table” or “30 Days on Minimum Wage.”
- View poverty statistics for your county by googling “Map the Meal Gap.”
- Make a financial contribution to the food bank.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.