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What Does the Term ‘Food Insecurity’ Really Mean?


Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin is in the midst of the month-long Food Security Challenge to find out if it’s possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget. He’s restricted to spending $6.46 a day, the equivalent of what he would receive in food stamps if he were in need of assistance and classified as a single, unemployed, non-dependent person.

Talkin is chronicling the challenge on his blog, which the Independent is republishing here. For more information, and to donate time and money to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and its 330 nonprofit partners, visit foodbanksbc.org.

Food insecurity. It’s a confusing term, and one that I’ve never liked. Yet it’s the term that best describes what the Foodbank faces from many thousands of seniors and families in the County. We are not facing starvation, and hunger is not the right word either. Hunger just describes a symptom. We are hungry, and if we solve the problem today, we will still be hungry tomorrow.

Food insecurity means that a household or individual is not able to guarantee that they will have enough healthful food to get them through the month. Like me in my Food Security Challenge, they might start out eating well at the beginning of the month, and then as rent, transport, medical and other bills take their chunk, people may be looking at an amount tinier than I am living on to be able to put towards food. (Because food is usually the thing that suffers, the thing that can be replaced with inferior or unhealthy alternatives without the body complaining…at first.

We may thing that SB County is well off compared to some places, but we are also way down the list of food secure counties in California (Out of 58 counties there are only 11 with worse food insecurity than us). Ouch.

Food insecurity is faced by many seniors as well as by so many working families in our county. They earn too much (but still a tiny amount) to qualify for food stamps and so rely on Foodbank and member agency programs to supplement the food they buy for themselves.

Imagine I am a senior (not so hard with all this grey – I keep telling myself I’m a silver fox, but even so…) and I don’t have enough good food that week. If I collapse because of low blood sugar and have to go to the emergency room or am admitted, the cost skyrockets when it could have been solved with a little healthy food and some education.

Our role at the Foodbank is to keep people healthy and make sure they have the skills and ability to make healthy food choices even if they are struggling. This makes common sense. If you eat bad food you get less healthy and can work less. If you work less you can only afford bad food and so…the downward spiral continues.

Speaking of ugly words, you have to hand it to ‘presenteeism’ which describes students or workers who are there, but not really ‘there.’

We live in a country that can easily provide enough healthy food for everyone. Let’s make that investment and save ourselves a fortune in the future.

As to the Food Security Challenge, I am down to my last $26 with a week to go. That’s $3.71 per day. My supplies are dwindling so this last week is going to be a big struggle. I could end up on the Kitten Cookies and apples diet.

Stay tuned to find out.



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