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21 Days for World Hunger – Day 16: Hunger in America

21 Days for World Hunger – Day 16: Hunger in America

Day 16 of 21 Days for World Hunger, and I’ve moved away from Asia and returned to the United States. For over two weeks I have been imitating (to a degree) the diet of the world’s hungry. Well, it looks like I’m going to make it to twenty-one. yay. A part of me wants to celebrate, but there’s still so much work to do. And I don’t mean just researching and writing. There is a big problem to solve: feeding the world’s hungry.

With this new focus on the United States, I’m reminded of a story a friend’s son once shared with me. While going to school in Berkeley, he was living on next to nothing. Hungry, he made regular trips to a dumpster outside of a bakery. The bakery threw away full dumpsters of day-old breads and pastries. Apparently there were regulars who met there daily to eat breakfast at the dumpster.

Couldn’t there be some way for food places to distribute their day-old goods preventing food waste while preserving the dignity of those living with hunger?

According to End Food Waste Now:

  • Roughly 40% of food in the US goes to waste.
  • Food loss costs a family of four at least $589.76 annually.
  • “A more recent estimate by Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institute of Health, found that a quarter of the food we squander would provide three meals per day for 43 million people. What’s more, it would yield enough to lift 430 million Americans, if that many existed, out of hunger.” American Wasteland
  • See more food waste facts here.


Today is World Obesity Day.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization): Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), a person’s weight divided by the square of his or her height.

You can calculate your BMI here. The NIH offers information on maintaining a healthy weight.

Below 18.5: Underweight
18.5–24.5: Normal
25.0–29.9: Overweight
30.0 and Above: Obesity

I didn’t even know World Obesity Day was a thing prior to today. This topic deserves an entire chapter to itself. But briefly, before I delve into hunger in the US, I want to share this infographic on childhood obesity in the US. There’s a worldwide goal to end childhood obesity by 2025. You can see infographics for every country on the site World Obesity Day. There’s something I find curious at the bottom of this infographic. In identifying ways to cut the risk of childhood obesity, there is no mention of increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables.


This is interesting: It’s a full data set showing estimates of obesity and comorbidities in school-age children globally. In the US, 2013, 29.25% of children ages 2-19 were overweight, and 12.9% of children ages 2-19 were obese.

Hunger in the United States

The fact that I am a citizen in the world’s wealthiest country and upwards of 42 million people in the United States, 13% of the population, live in food insecure households is horrifying.

Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

According to Feeding America in 2015:

Households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (17% compared to 11% for households with no children), especially households with children headed by single women (30%) or single men (22%), Black non-Hispanic households (22%) and Hispanic households (19%).

Twelve states exhibited statistically significantly higher household food-insecurity rates than the U.S. national average 2013-2015 (13.7%):

  1. Mississippi 20.8 %
  2. Arkansas 19.2 %
  3. Louisiana 18.4 %
  4. Alabama 17.6 %
  5. Kentucky 17.6 %
  6. Ohio 16.1 %
  7. Oregon 16.1 %
  8. North Carolina 15.9 %
  9. Maine 15.8 %
  10. Oklahoma 15.5 %
  11. Texas 15.4 %
  12. Tennessee 15.1 %

Feeding America shows a state-by-state breakdown of the food insecurity rates. It’s interactive, so when you click on it, facts to that specific area are shown. The most recent data on the map are from 2014, so while slightly dated, it’s still informative. My own state, Oregon, shows 605,000 food insecure people. It appears that number has risen from 15.2% in 2014 to 16.1% in 2015. The county where we live, Jackson, shows 16% food insecurity rate. I was astounded to look at these numbers. Clearly, I’m not paying enough attention. I live in a major farming corridor, the Rogue Valley. I wonder how it’s possible to have so many hungry people here?

Feeding America: Jackson County Food Insecure


ACCESS of Jackson County

I took my questions to ACCESS, The Community Action Agency of Jackson County. With a mission of helping people help themselves, ACCESS has been serving the needs of seniors, persons with disabilities, children, and people of low-income since 1976. A moving video, Hunger Has No Boundaries, details personal accounts of those who help with and those who live with homelessness and food insecurity in Jackson County.

It’s disconcerting to know people in my county are struggling. Since May, I have worked at the Food Security Garden, one of Jackson County Master Gardener Association’s twenty demo gardens at Oregon State University’s extension program. The head gardener is Scott Goode, soil expert extraordinaire. We grew, harvested and donated to ACCESS over 500 pounds of tomatoes.


Philip Yates, the nutrition director at ACCESS, offered valuable insight and useful information about hunger in Jackson County.

Q: What are the hunger statistics of Jackson County?


Recently, we received some bad news: while hunger has been steadily decreasing in the U.S., it remains persistently high in Oregon. That’s according to a new USDA report on Food Insecurity in the U.S.

The facts:

  • Between 2013-15, nearly one in six households (16.1 percent) in Oregon were “food insecure,” meaning they couldn’t afford all the food they needed and struggled to get three healthy meals a day.
  • 103,000 households in Oregon were consistently hungry, meaning they were forced to skip meals. If these households were to comprise a city, it would be the second largest in the state.
  • Oregon is one of the hungriest states in the nation—eighth hungriest to be exact.

Q: Why is Oregon so hungry? What’s happening in Oregon that isn’t happening in the rest of the country?

We believe there are three reasons why hunger has increased:

  • High cost of housing,
  • High rates of mobility,
  • Underemployment, especially in rural parts of Oregon.

The good news? If we know the causes of hunger, we can work on the solutions.

Read more in our blog post, Part I of the Series: Hunger Still High in Oregon.

Q: What are the main types of foods you give to ACCESS recipients? In what ways? Does ACCESS ever emphasize plant-based nutrition?

About 40-45% of the food we distribute is fresh perishable foods such as meat, dairy, milk, deli and produce. About 15-20% is USDA commodities, mostly canned and packaged staple foods like canned fruits & vegs, rice, beans, pasta. We are able to order through the Oregon Food Bank other non-perishable foods that are low in sodium and high fructose corn syrup.

The goal of the Oregon Food Bank network over the past two years has been to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables distributed by 50%. This was a 3-year plan and we already surpassed that goal and are distributing 70% more.

Q: In addition to food aid, what does ACCESS do to help recipients become self-sustaining?

ACCESS has five Food Share gardens, which are a quarter to half acre donated pieces of land and water where we grow 40,000 – 50,000 pounds of organic vegetables for distribution through our food pantry network. These gardens are overseen by a coordinator and run by volunteers.

We also have a Cooking Skills Education Program that provides over 100 cooking demonstrations annually at sites that include food pantries, schools, farmers markets, grocery stores. We also provide 6 week cooking classes called Cooking Matters designed for low-income clients. Both programs use groups of 30-40 trained volunteers.

We operate a Healthy Mobile Food Pantry that specifically targets individuals and families with Chronic Disease (Diabetes, high blood pressure). Low-income families with chronic disease are referred by local Community Health Clinics and Wellness Centers. In addition, at each location we provide cooking demonstrations and recipes using appropriate foods, a dietician who can provide support, and information to clients making big changes in their diet. Also blood pressure checks and health insurance are made available by our local community health clinics.

Q: When you think about all the people ACCESS has helped, what story comes to mind as one that has inspired you to carry on at your work? 

Caroline is a native of Utah. A 40-year old mother of three, she devoted her career to working as an LPN nurse. Despite all the years Caroline worked as a nurse in the familiarity of her hometown, the family packed up their apartment and moved when her husband got a new job in Oregon driving an 18-wheeler. With both adults employed, life would be more financially secure. Besides, she felt confident about getting another healthcare job given her years of experience and dedication.

Crisis struck when during the first week on his new job, Caroline’s husband was badly injured in an accident. He became permanently disabled. Besides the pain that comes with a new injury, the prospect of going back to work was looking dim.

Here they were in a new place, Caroline’s husband with a serious injury, and she was still trying to transfer her LPN certification to get active work in Oregon. In time, she did, but the only available job was a low-paying one at a local care facility. Desperate, she took it.

Disability assistance for her husband’s injuries took months to receive. Failing to make ends meet, the family moved into a single-wide mobile home owned by a struggling single mother they had met. She too had three children. Three adults (one disabled) and six children, living in a mobile home. No one dreams of this life.

A silver lining arrived in the form of food. The family was able to visit one of the ACCESS pantries in Medford and receive some of the basic food necessities they needed to stay healthy. The allotment included vegetables, fruits, rice, cereal, and juice. Caroline shared how “The ACCESS food bank was a godsend. It was a real relief to know that my kids would have food to eat. I’m really not sure where we’d be without the food bank.”

Caroline’s story, unfortunately, is too commonplace. Families from all over the nation come to our community, Jackson County, seeking a better life. Too often they are handed circumstances they did not count on. We’re here to help with one of the most important needs of survival: sustenance.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about ACCESS?

I want people to know that we are really committed to helping people change their lives, eat healthier, and build community.

There are many ways to support ACCESS. Check out their website and click the tab “Help Access.”



My Daily Food Justice Diet Experience

Our clunky old Goodwill scale is on the fritz, so the excellent Mr. Pepper bought us a digital one. As I suspected, turns out our old, fritzy scale has been about 4 pounds light. I know my body well enough to believe the numbers I’ve seen aren’t precise. This validates my belief:  It’s not about the number on a scale. It’s about how do I feel – emotionally, mentally, physically. While the numbers may be useful for someone who is seriously trying to track weight, I still encourage folks to check in with themselves in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Today. Well. I just was not motivated. Call it burnout. Call it fatigue. Whatever. I struggled to keep moving forward. This experience has consumed me while I haven’t been consuming enough. I clearly need a respite. I will finish this experiment, and that feels good. But I need to get some time with my husband and dog. I need to organize the piles of shite collecting on my desk. I need to clean up my yard and garden boxes. I need to reconnect with friends. I need to call my mother. I need nature. I dream of watching a movie at night without my laptop. I need sleep. I need a bath. I need hash browns.  I’m ready to bring this to a close and start the next phase. To be announced.

Day 16 Food Intake
-5 lbs. since Day 1

Fat = 25%
Carbs = 63%
Protein = 13%

And all of that equals 101%. The outstanding Mr. Pepper wonders if the sites where I get my nutrition data round up small percentages creating a surplus of fats, carbs, and proteins. Let’s just say the info above gives us a fairly accurate peek into the big picture.

I realize now that I’m focusing on hunger in the U.S., my diet should change accordingly. Here are the two reasons that is not going to happen:  1) My husband just made a new batch of oh-so-yummy beans, and 2) If I were to eat a diet similar to those Americans who are living in poverty, I would most likely be eating some very unhealthy foods – processed – sugary – animal products.  Foods lacking in nutrients.  Fast food.  Junk food.  I won’t do it.

Today we ate dinner at 4:45. Because of me. Because I was hungry. We decided that eating dinner early is probably a good idea for countless reasons including better sleep and improved digestion.


Tomorrow I take the day off from publishing a post. Yay.


If we can muster up that degree of commitment and get away from the uniquely American perception that if something can’t be done immediately it isn’t worth doing, then I think the Hunger Movement, this small but growing minority of us, can have a truly significant impact.
~Harry Chapin

We will have an unchallenged, open, panoramic opportunity on a global scale to demonstrate the finest aspects of what we know in this country: peace, freedom, democracy, human rights, benevolent sharing, love, the easing of human suffering. Is that going to be our list of priorities or not?
~ Jimmy Carter

The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other.  It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.  Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash.  The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.
~John Berger


To read other posts in this series, click click click the links. Please share your comments!

Day 1:    The Food Justice Diet
Day 2:    Alarming and Curious Statistics
Day 3:    Finish Your Plate, There are Children Starving in Ethiopia
Day 4:    The Nameless Hungry
Days 5-6:  “Where Does She Get Her Protein??”
Day 7:    One Small NGO Making a Big Impact in Ethiopia
Day 8:    The Language of Hunger
Day 9:    Plenty of Soy Solutions in Latin America
Days 10-11: Can Small-scale farming feed the world?
Day 12: Why Organic Farming?
Days 13-14: The Have and Have-Nots of Southeast Asia
Day 15: Have You Eaten Today?
Day 16: Hunger in America
Days 17 & 18: Hunger’s Dirty Little Secret
Day 19: Eat Plants
Day 20: Watch This, Read That
Day 21: The Power of Activism

One comment

  1. Pingback: World Hunger's Dirty Little Secret: Days 17 & 18

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