Obesity Is the New Hunger

Adriana Velez

farm boxWhen I was a kid, being poor meant going without eating -- anything. It was pretty cut-and-dried: Fighting hunger meant delivering calories to people who weren't getting enough. But in the last 20 or so years, "hunger" has gotten so much more complex. We use words like "food insecure," and more and more of the focus has shifted from "not getting enough calories" to obesity.

So what happened, and what does it all mean now?

First of all, food security has to do with how available food is to you and how much access you have to it. Thirty one million Americans were food insecure in 1999; today that number has risen to 36 million.

Meanwhile, food has gotten cheaper, portions have gotten larger, and obesity rates have risen.

More and more the problem is not so much having access to any food -- it's about having access to the right kind of food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Go into a financially struggling community, rural or urban, and you'll see far fewer stores selling healthy food. If you have a limited budget and bellies to fill, it takes education, savvy, time, and cooking experience to make those dollars stretch in a healthy way.

This is why some food pantries and hunger organizations are starting to change the way they work. My favorite example is Bed-Stuy Farm here in Brooklyn. It began when the organizers running Brooklyn Rescue Mission, a food pantry, realized that the people they serve weren't getting the fresh, healthy food they needed most -- so they started a farm at the vacant lot next door! See also Will Allen and his organization Growing Power for another brilliant solution to the poverty/obesity problem.

What do you think? How can we address the problems of poverty and obesity?

Image via Darius/Flickr

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