by Nina Hirai
Food insecurity is a pressing matter in our society today; however, it is often overshadowed by the much more tangible issues in our communities. According to Nicole Straight, the Fairfield County site director of Food Rescue US (a food drive based organization), as a country, we waste 40% of our edible produce before it is even put out on the market for us to consume. Food insecurity is not just about unfair wages and political climate but we, ourselves, are also to blame for it. We live in a consumerist society in which sell-by dates are not enforced to keep us safe but to ensure that the companies producing the food will continue to make profit. In fact, according to John Gutman, executive director of the North Covenant Center (a soup kitchen style food bank in Stamford), an unopened box of cereal is still edible after 9 months. Furthermore, as a society, we have a wildly inaccurate prenotion of what it means to be food insecure. We are taught to be believe that only if you are starving, does it mean that you are food insecure when in reality, it is the “lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods” (USDA). As of 2018, 10% of Fairfield County is food insecure and 62% are eligible for governmentally funded food programs such as SNAPS. The fact of the matter is that what we consider the national “poverty line” ($25,100 for households of 4) is much too low. In fact, according to Feeding America (a US-based nonprofit organization), 29% of the food insecure population live above 185% of the poverty line.
There is a certain societal shame in being food insecure which exacerbates the severity of this problem. People ignore it often as it opens a pandora’s box of complexities, including socioeconomic and racial inequalities. Fairfield County has “pockets” of poverty, concentrated areas of lower-income households which ‘incidentally’ have higher rate of minorities. Although organizations such as the New Covenant Center (NCC) and Person to Person exist, there is still an innumerable amount of waste coming out of restaurants and grocery stores. Despite there being a federal law to protect such companies, known as the The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (“Good Samaritan Act”), companies avoid donating their excess food in fear that they could be held accountable for someone’s food poisoning. However, other companies such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods take part in food drives in which volunteers can transport their excess food to food banks in the neighboring areas.
Even if that can of beans sitting in your pantry doesn’t look appetizing to you, as John Gutman said, food banks will take anything as long as it’s edible. “You got an unopened can of soup? Please drop it off,” he explained. Approximately 4,750 people in Stamford are fed by NCC whether it be through meals or groceries, and they encourage people to volunteer or to drop any excess food off. There are various ways for us to help alleviate this issue: whether it be through volunteering or by trying to reduce our own food waste at home. Even if this issue may seem invisible, as Gutman made evident, it’s about who chooses to be aware. We cannot choose to ignore this problem and expect it to disappear through the efforts of others. We need to choose to be aware and choose to help if we want to defeat it.