Food Insecurity

The tragic irony of our current food system is that many of the negative consequences of this system – an epidemic of diet-related diseases, rising levels of hunger, and a lack of access to fresh and healthy food – disproportionately impact the workers who cook and prepare our food:

  • 22% of workers in food preparation and serving related occupations live in food insecure households (i.e. they lack “consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living”) compared to the national average of 15%.  [2010 Census Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Survey]
  • 31% of food workers are at risk for diet-related illnesses like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease — the highest rate of all occupations in the United States.

Food workers and their families also rely on key federal food and nutrition assistance programs at higher rates than the national average for all workers:

  • 13.2 percent of workers in food preparation and serving occupations lived in households that utilized food stamps at some point during the year, nearly double the national average of 6.3 percent. [2010 Census Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Survey]
  • 6.1 percent lived in households where a member received WIC benefits, again, nearly double the national average of 3.4 percent. [2010 Census Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Survey]
  • 14 percent lived in households with at least one child dependent on the national free lunch program, compared to the national average of 7.3 percent. [2010 Census Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Survey]

Many in the food movement are addressing the food crisis facing low-income workers by reforming (and defending) federal nutrition assistance programs, promoting educational programs on food and diet, and increasing access to fresh and local food in low-income communities.

Yet the problems of our food system can only be solved by also addressing the growing levels of poverty and inequality in the United States.  Although the causes of our health and food crisis are complex and multifaceted, study after study confirms that food access and healthy diets are strongly linked to income levels.  Many workers in America simply are not paid enough by their employers to meet their basic nutritional needs, let alone afford the sometimes more expensive organic, local, or sustainable food options.  And the new era of fiscal austerity will likely limit new or expanded government programs that could help workers improve their food access.

But there are solutions to the food crisis that include food workers as active partners in reform.

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