“Understanding Food Insecurity”
Written by guest blogger, Brianna Nash
This is one example of food insecurity. In a mid-size, affluent college town like Boulder, many people never stop to consider that their next-door neighbors or fellow students may be unable to put food on the table. Widespread, the stigma that surrounds food insecurity is stapled to very low-income individuals and people experiencing homelessness. If someone needs food they must also be struggling in all other aspects of life, and so goes the unconscious shaming.
When you think about food insecurity what do you consider? What type of person do you think of? Reflect on this for a moment. Take your own situation into account. Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? Have you ever had to buy cheaper food or less food because you didn’t have enough money?
Increasingly, in university towns and cities across the United States, students are struggling to feed themselves. Likely the cause of many factors — such as rising tuition and rising rent — young people are unable to go to school AND pay for food. The same overarching issue has affected thousands of families across the Boulder County area for decades. Along with students, the increasing cost of living makes food inaccessible for many, let alone fresh and healthy food. It’s important to remember, “fresh and healthy” are perceived staples of what it means to live in Boulder. This staple carries with it a strong message of denial that many never actually speak about. It is very difficult to make ends meet for the average person in this part of Colorado.
There are more than 107,000 residents living in Boulder, and nearly 15,000 of them are experiencing some form of food insecurity. A large percentage of this number is children under the age of 18. Throughout the county, one in every eight people encounters food insecurity. It’s easy to assume that all the people sitting in your local Boulder coffee shop are able to go home and make a healthy meal for dinner. Statistically though, at least one or two of them may not be able to afford healthy and nutritious food.
The USDA defines food security as a person being able to “access enough food for an active, healthy life.” This access ranges on a spectrum of high to low food security — high meaning a person is able to afford healthy food at all times, low meaning a person’s lifestyle changes due to lack of food. It is important to remember that food insecurity can come and go in a person’s life. An individual may go for a long time being completely food secure, then dip into low security say, when they lose their job and need to shop at the food bank. Situations in people’s lives are constantly shifting. The way someone feeds themselves is arguably one of the first indications of when a situation is in flux.
It is largely assumed that if someone can’t afford healthy food then they can’t afford a nice phone, or take themselves out for coffee, or get their hair done. While this does stand true for many, the faces of food insecurity are incredibly varied, and cannot be defined in neat boxes. Boulder has one of the highest average meal costs in the nation, coinciding with being one of Colorado’s most expensive counties to live in. For individuals and families that have been completely priced out of the area, food may be the very last thing on their agenda.
Why go out for coffee then, you may ask. In a place like Boulder, one would imagine that to be a genuine question born in curiosity. But questions like that are the reason there is a stigma still surrounding food insecurity. There are a lot of people that simply cannot afford to eat here, but that doesn’t mean they should or have to deny themselves other things in life. Understanding food insecurity begins by taking a few steps back, reserving judgements, and opening up to the much larger picture — everyone needs to live and everyone is going to do it differently.