East St. Louis Food Security: A Working Document
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Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics
Profile of Community Food Resources
Assessment of Household Food Security
Assessment of Food Resource Accessibility
Assessment of Food Availability and Affordability
Assessment of Food Production Resources
Last updated April 13, 2010.
The Importance of Food Security
An individual who is food secure has access to enough food to lead an active, healthy life without needing to depend on emergency sources. Though it seems strange that hunger should exist in the United States, a 2007 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study found that 11.1% of households were not food secure, and about a third of those households contained individuals who had experienced physical hunger at some point during the year due to a lack of food (Nord, Andrews and Carlson 2008). Not only does food insecurity have the potential to cause hunger and strife for a household, but also to hinder development and scholastic success of children, reduce productivity and potential earnings for adults, and to cause serious health problems because of diet-related diseases, possibly leading to disability or premature death. By lowering potential and diverting resources that could be used for food for healthcare or other costs, experiencing food insecurity feeds back into itself and makes it more difficult to acquire the resources to become food secure (Cohen 2002).
Local and State-Level Food Security Measurement in the United States
The definitions of food security and insecurity used by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. government were developed by the Life Sciences Research Office of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology:
Food Security: “Access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum: (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways e.g., without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies.”
Food Insecurity: “Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
Some studies define households experiencing the worst food insecurity as having “Very low food security” (Nord, Andrews and Carlson 2008):
Very Low Food Security- Occurs when “The food intake of one or more adults was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”
These definitions have been used by the Food and Nutrition Service to prepare a survey methodology for state and local researchers to assess food security at a household level. This type of assessment focuses on food insecurity and hunger resulting from a lack of financial resources. (Bickel et al. 2000)
Household Food Security vs. Community Food Security
The household has been the traditional unit for food security measurement. However, using the community as a unit is a relatively new, alternative method. There is not yet a universally accepted definition of community food security, however, Hamm and Bellows put forth the following definition:
Community Food Security: “…a situation in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice” (Bellows 2003).
Community food security differs from measuring food security on a household basis because it allows for holistic analysis of the entire community food system. This type of measurement comes from the ideas of the community food security movement, born from the collaboration of farmers, ranchers, anti-hunger activists, nutritionists, environmentalists, public health educators, and city planners (Jacobson 2007). The vision of this movement is to reverse the cycle in which food insecurity feeds back in a loop and replace it with a sustainable community food system that feeds back into itself to enhance the community:
Community Food System: “A collaborative effort to build more locally based, self reliant food economies–one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular region” (Feenstra 2002).
The Economic Research Service of the USDA funded the development of a document to help communities assess their community food security, the “Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit.” The toolkit describes communities with potential food insecurity:
Community Food Insecurity: Communities may be considered to be food insecure if there are inadequate resources from which people can purchase foods; the available food purchasing resources are not accessible to all community members; the food available is not competitively priced and thus is not affordable to all households; there are inadequate food assistance resources to help low-income people purchase foods at retail markets; there are no local food production resources; locally produced food is not available to community members; there is no support for local production resources; or there is any significant household food insecurity within the community.
Community Food Security Assessment
The “Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit” gives information sources and methodologies to gauge a community’s ability to meet the food needs of its residents. This sort of assessment can be beneficial by creating an understanding of the food system, showing what can be done to improve it, and showing how actions have changed the system if a series of assessments are done. This type of assessment has been done in other communities across the country. Information about these other assessments can be found in the toolkit and “What's cooking in your food system? A guide to community food assessment” (Cohen 2002) (Pothukuchi, Joseph and Burton 2002).
Data collection for the community food security assessment is guided by the “Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit,” a publication prepared by IQ Solutions, Inc for the USDA. The toolkit provides a tested methodology whose results can be compared with and serve as a resource to other communities. Further information about data collection and analysis is provided within each section. The toolkit is broken down into the six sections following:
1. Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics
2. Profile of Community Food Resources
3. Assessment of Household Food Security
4. Assessment of Food Resource Accessibility
5. Assessment of Food Availability and Affordability
6. Assessment of Food Production Resources