Stems and Roots: The Consequences of Food Insecurity in the United States


City Sprouts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit in Omaha, Nebraska, wages war against one of the major foes plaguing the United States: food insecurity.

Operating since 1995, City Sprouts saw an opportunity to expand access to environmentally sustainable, healthy, and quality food for North Omaha residents where, often, the most affordable food available was at a local gas station. Their model includes creating gardens for local families to plant and harvest themselves, thereby bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into the home while supplementing community identity and pride. Multiple education and internship programs immerse local children and teenagers in productive, skills-based work during the summers and school year. City Sprouts continues to expand rapidly, with harvest yields steadily increasing.

In many ways, City Sprouts within North Omaha serves as a microcosm for food security issues in the United States. According to the USDA, at least 12.7%–around 42 million—Americans were food insecure during 2015, meaning they lacked access to enough quality food to live active, healthy lifestyles. This number corresponds closely to the number of Americans living in poverty—43.1 million in 2015—suggesting a strong correlation between poverty and food insecurity. North Omaha—an extremely impoverished area of the city—fits in within the above statistics. And, while food security organizations like City Sprouts and programs like SNAP are in place across the country, relatively little political attention is devoted to the lack of food in the United States. Policymakers ignore the issue at their own peril.

Indeed, food insecurity isn’t going away—in fact, it’s exacerbated by climate change. Climate change increases the risk of food insecurity and hunger worldwide by increasing the frequency of extreme weather events and disrupting water quality and reliability due to increased sea levels over time. Stability, access, and utilization of food all become more difficult in a changing climate. Climate change’s subsequent effect on food prices also severely affect availability. Furthermore, rising temperatures would increasingly affect food production in the United States. According to The Economist, drought in North Dakota in 2006 wiped out 10% of the state’s crop yield—a number likely to get worse as severe weather worsens. Additionally, the newspaper cites a study that finds as temperatures rise, yields for crops in the Midwest could be reduced by 20% by 2050. Hotter days would also cut down on worker productivity—anywhere from 3-8%, spelling massive issues for the American economy.

Americans can’t expect any relief from President-Elect Donald Trump, either. Almost no information exists on Trump’s food policy positions. However, his choice of agriculture and food advisors during his campaign included many wealthy, agribusiness individuals against animal welfare organizations and GMO labeling, and in support of exploitative companies like Monsanto. His choices suggest little regard for implementing healthy food policy, much less mitigating food insecurity. In essence, President-Elect Trump’s Department of Agriculture would be filled with major corporate agricultural interests that champion chemically created foods.

In regards to climate change, Trump also provides little reassurance for those who are food insecure. Widely known as a climate change skeptic, Trump has also toyed with the idea of destroying the EPA, or appointing leading climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to head the agency. Given the documented, consistent effects of climate change on food production and access, Trump’s policies will likely make the situation even worse.

Americans should be exceedingly worried about these developments, as the long term effects of food insecurity are severe. The No Kid Hungry organization finds multiple effects of food insecurity on children from birth through adolescence, including: low birthweight and diminished development, iron deficiency, obesity, mental illness, behavior and social development, and cognitive functions during learning. Food insecurity presents a range of consequences—their heavy impact on children means that generations of Americans will suffer in the years to come.

What’s needed are more organizations like City Sprouts—and overall greater society-wide interest and advocacy for climate change and environmental issues. Institutional support from the federal government is unlikely to come, so grassroots action seems to be the only solution in the near future. The consequences of food insecurity are shown to affect every aspect of American society—political, economic, social, and cultural—and thus are worthy of increased action. Maybe we all can develop our green thumbs a little bit—and choose tomatoes over Twinkies.

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