When it comes to access, North Americans enjoy a fair degree of openness. From information to consumer goods, the flexibility offered provides freedom and choice. Want to find out what’s happening? Look it up. Searching for the latest gadgets? Check out a wide range of stores. Nothing seems out of reach, and we relish the thought of being able to get whatever we want, whenever we want.
Or so it would seem.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll usually find something awry. In this case, it happens to be access to food, and specifically, access to healthy food.
Food security is a concept that addresses this exact issue. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) refers to food security as a situation when all people have the physical and economic access to nutritious food. Such food would be available at all times, be safe and in sufficient quantity, and meet the dietary needs to support healthy lifestyles.
When healthy food is inaccessible, whether due to economic factors or physical distance, then food insecurity is present. Unfortunately, food insecurity is far too prevalent to ignore. Despite the variety and choice many North Americans enjoy, individuals and families continue to face hurdles when it comes to accessing healthy foods.
Households can experience food insecurity due to their inability to pay for nutritionally adequate and safe food. Households that are able to afford healthy food may still face food insecurity if the food is not readily accessible (if it is available at all). Food insecurity may also be experienced when a household has to resort to socially undesirable ways to acquire food, which may include scavenging or stealing.
Food insecurity experienced by a household is directly proportional to its earning potential. Poorer households have a higher probability of experiencing food insecurity, since they spend more of their earnings (as a percentage of total earnings) on food. Changes in food supply and price, however minute, can affect poorer households disproportionately. Food insecurity is also experienced by people who are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood whenever there is a drop in agricultural output.
While it may be difficult to fully appreciate this issue in North America, especially if you live in a big city, the problem is there, affecting the lives of many. In Canada, for instance, one in eight households face food insecurity, which amounts to 4 million adults and children. In America, approximately 13 percent of households confront food insecurity, totalling 42.2 million. These staggering numbers paint a daunting picture, especially when health impacts are considered.
Members of households experiencing food insecurity are prone to face cognitive, behavioural, and health issues. The consequences of food insecurity are chronic hunger (when food is not available), and malnutrition or undernutrition (when food is nutritionally inadequate).
Most adults in food insecure households contract chronic conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, all of which can be attributed to inadequate nutrition. Food insecurity in adults is more pronounced when a pregnant mother is undernourished and almost invariably gives birth to an underweight baby.
Human beings react to hunger and inadequate nutrition by adjusting their body size (coping mechanism), leading to stunted growth, particularly in infants. Stunted growth impinges on the health of the person in several deleterious ways that may include premature death, illness, reduced cognition, and slow mental development.
Another major group affected by food insecurity are university and college students. According to Meal Exchange, almost two in five students surveyed experienced some form of food insecurity. Specific groups had higher rates of food insecurity, such as Indigenous students (56.4%), racialized students (41.9%), and off-campus students living alone (54.4%) or with roommates (47.9%).
Students receiving loans through banks and governments also faced food access issues. More than half of respondents (55%) that received loans from banks experienced food insecurity, which was virtually identical to the proportion of students that received student loans from governments (54.7%).
There are several reasons that help explain the prevalence of food insecurity: the cost of food continues to increase at a quicker rate than inflation, the average cost of tuition for an undergraduate degree has increased $3,000 from 1993/1994 levels, and increases in cost of housing outpace inflation. Press Progress notes that between 1995/96 and 2015/16, the cost of undergraduate tuition increased by 238%.
The Canadian federal government predicts tuition fees will rise at a rate of 2.5 percent above inflation annually over the next 25 years (from an average of $5,959 in 2014-15 to $19,900 in 2035-36). Clearly, the problem will continue to persist in North America unless changes are made.
The issue of food insecurity is fairly acute throughout the world, but efforts have been made to minimize the effects with goals being set by the FAO. A report from 2015 notes that 795 million people in the world are undernourished as compared to 962 million a decade ago.
One way to check whether food security exists is to measure the daily intake of calories against the standards set.
The standards for daily intake of nutritious food vary according to the age, gender, and level of activity of the individual. For instance, in the case of young children the daily intake varies from 1,000 to 2,000 calories, and in the case of older children the daily intake varies from 1,400 to 3,200 calories. In the case of adult women the daily intake varies from 1,600 to 2,400 calories, and in the case of adult men the daily intake varies from 2,000 to 3,000 calories.
At a general level, males require more intake than females, older people require lesser intake than younger adults, and more active people require more intake than less active people.
If every person is able to afford and consume food based on the standards, then it is safe to assume that food security exists.
Fed, a nutrition company based in Vancouver, was created to address health and food security problems.
Accessing nutritious food is a challenge, even in countries like Canada and the United States, where food swamps and food deserts are far too common. Even when healthy food is physically accessible, the high prices can complicate purchasing decisions, thus making it unaffordable.
Fed's innovative model aims to make food security the global standard. Access is important, but so is the peace of mind in knowing that the meals you take in are uncompromised, unprocessed, healthy, and prepared with care. Fed will do all of these things, adding new dimensions to an already important concept.
We are currently working hard to make Fed a reality, and are aiming to launch later in 2017. Sign up now for our mailing list to receive updates and early access to our meals.