Eliminating hunger: It’s more than just putting food on the table
When you hear about ‘eliminating hunger,’ what comes to mind? Soup kitchens, families living in poverty, a lack of food?
Unfortunately, it’s not just the poor who need nutritional assistance. Nutritional poverty – also known as ‘hidden hunger’ or malnutrition – transcends socioeconomic status and has serious health consequences. While it is true that poverty, natural disasters, political problems, and war all contribute to hunger and hidden hunger, malnutrition is more widespread than it appears: American chef Cat Cora stated, “Chronic malnutrition, or the lack of proper nutrition over time directly contributes to three times as many child deaths as food scarcity. Yet surprisingly, you don’t really hear about this hidden crisis through the morning news, Twitter or headlines of major newspapers.” The consequences of malnutrition can be mild or severe, and if left untreated, can lead to mental or physical disability, illness, and death.
As Americans embrace a fast-paced, jam-packed lifestyle, convenience often takes precedence over nutritional quality. “Survey research confirms we’re cooking less and buying more prepared meals every year,” states Michael Pollan in his new book, Cooked. “The amount of time spent preparing meals in American households has fallen by half since the mid-sixties to a scant twenty-seven minutes a day.” But at what cost does our love for convenience come?
A recent study of children in Corvallis, Oregon – a relatively well-off and health-conscious community – found staggering results regarding nutrient deficiency. One hundred seventy-five children between the ages of five and 11 were surveyed; of these, 60 percent of the children aged five to eight and 78 percent of the children aged nine to 11 didn’t get enough fiber, and over 80 percent of the children had too much saturated fat and sodium in their diets. Forty-five percent of the older children weren’t getting enough calcium (compared to 16 percent of the younger children), and 61 percent of the children had insufficient levels of vitamin D, eight percent of which were deficient in the vitamin.
What the Corvallis study shows is that nutritional poverty is not synonymous with poverty or food insecurity.
While striving to eliminate hunger is a noble and important task, it is important to note that not all foods are created equal. Fresh, whole foods are not only satisfying but provide an array of vitamins and minerals essential to health. Teaching children the value of fresh, real food early on may be the key to eliminating hidden hunger in the future – Simone Frei, who spearheaded the Corvallis study, noted that some evidence suggests that students involved in school gardens are more likely to eat vegetables. By planting a backyard fruit tree and/or a backyard vegetable garden, a family can provide themselves with the freshest local produce and often have extra to spare. Donating fruit to local food banks not only alleviates some of the food banks’ pressure to feed an increasing number of families each year, but also provides low-income families with the nutrition they need.
To learn more about donating excess backyard fruit, please visit http://www.theurbanfarmers.org/register-a-tree/.