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IV ETHNOBOTANY PROJECT

Cultural Landscape: Food Insecurity

The purpose of this article is to address Food Insecurity, educate about it, and provide resources to combat food insecurity.

 

Facts:

Food insecurity is a major public health problem and environmental justice issue all over the world. About 27% of the people on Earth are regularly or constantly without reliable, affordable, nutritious or sufficient food.

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Something to consider is: human food production systems produce plenty of food for everyone on the planet, but due to distribution problems, excess food from areas that overproduce is wasted instead of given to the needy.

Now, you may be thinking: “What? Not possible! We live in America.” Right you are--We are in America. But our catchphrase is “Land of the Free” not “Land where people aren’t nutritionally deprived.” About 12.3% of US residents are food insecure.  The graphic below shows the average food insecurity by US county. The darker the color, the higher the percentage of households experiencing food insecurity.

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You might still argue: “Ok, but California is different.” Wrong. Especially in the less economically secure areas, food insecurity is rampant.  I created the map below using ARCGIS software and public data. This graphic shows the relation between poverty and food insecurity in California (and Nevada). The shaded yellow to orange to red gradient for the counties show average food insecurity (the darker the color, the higher percentage). The purple circles show poverty (the larger the circle, the greater percentage). 

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You might also futilely say: “All that being said, there can’t be UCSB students who are hungry. It’s one of the best public universities in the world.” Wrong again! 48% of UCSB undergraduates report being food insecure: 1.8 times greater than the world average.

Causes and Effects:

Causes of food insecurity are many and can be convoluted. They also vary greatly from country to country and household to household. The main causes are political instability, economic system, environmental instability, gender and international relations, with poverty as an underlying cause or effect of all of these.  Civil war, poor food distribution, lack of viable agricultural land, poor food production, drought, advertisement of cheap and unhealthy foods, low wages, and easy access to cheap and unhealthy food, all influence these causes.

The effects of food insecurity are less variable by place and situation, as they all boil down to effects of nutrition deprivation. These include: developmental complications in youth and babies that lead to trouble focusing and succeeding in educational environments, higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems, increased probability of chronic diseases, and more susceptibility to illness and hospitalization; increased need for medical care that leads to high healthcare costs; starvation; the need to make sacrifices, tradeoffs and hard decisions such as underusing medication and medical care, or choosing to pay the water bill instead of filling the pantry.

I created the Causal Model below.  Everything to the left of the Food Insecurity box are causes, and everything to the right are effects.

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Potential Solutions:

I believe that food insecurity is solvable and that we should be doing more as a society and species to address this problem. As an environmental studies major and private citizen who studies ethnobotany, I think there are many ways to fix the issue or augment the programs that are already in place to do so. 

There are some things that can be done at government levels, such as amending or creating new laws and regulations surrounding food waste, food distribution, food sovereignty, sustainability of food systems and more. I’m not here to talk about that, though, because there are also things that can be done at a local level, such as this website (see the resources below for Food Security efforts local to UCSB).

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Image by Salah Ait Mokhtar