By Jacob Mueller, Guest Columnist
Chicago, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati. None are even slightly surprising answers to the question, “Where are you from?” I find my response, rural Indiana, seems to be quite surprising to almost everyone who asks. Yes, I grew up on a farm and, based on my observations, this puts me in a rather small minority here at Miami. But, this experience has given me insight into several subjects, most notably food.
As an agriculturist, I think about food a lot. It is, after all, the product of my industry’s toil. The production of food is a broad topic on which my upbringing gives me a unique perspective. Nearly every day I hear suburbanites sounding off about the evils of everything from large-scale animal production to genetically modified crops, and I wonder if these people have ever set foot on a real farm or even talked to a real agriculturist (not just the small-time organic tomato grower at your farmer’s market who profits from your fear of “the system”). I avoid these polarizing topics because, although my views are different and founded in firsthand experience, I’m fully aware that I’m no expert on anything. Therefore, I encourage dialogue on a topic relating to food on which we can all agree. Indeed, everyone needs food, but not everyone has food.
There are a lot of hungry people in the world. We all know that. Our understanding of the scale of this statement is, however, probably lacking. A quick Google search reveals that, worldwide, there were about 795 million undernourished people in 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Sentient beings everywhere agree that this is a large number of undernourished, or hungry, people. This number is so large, in fact, that it serves to dehumanize the issue. We can’t comprehend the enormity of that figure, so let us narrow our scope.
There are a lot of hungry people in the United States — roughly 17.4 million households (not individuals) were food insecure in 2014, according to the USDA. This number still has a dehumanizing immensity, so let us narrow the scope even further. Figures from feedingamerica.org reveal there are about 1.9 million people living with food insecurity in Ohio, and about 54,000 in Butler County, which amounts to seven times the number of students enrolled at Miami University.
I would wager that a large percentage of Miami students have never experienced this, and if that includes you, try to imagine that, on Monday morning, you wake up wondering how you will acquire food this week. When your stomach starts to growl, there is no stopping at Armstrong for a snack and there is no mom and dad to call when your account balance gets low. If this thought makes you uncomfortable, it indicates you are both human and beginning to understand the severity and reality of this issue. Unfortunately, like so many other pressing issues, food insecurity is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, while the causes are misdiagnosed by the general public.
Upon learning that there is sizeable number of people in our country that suffer from food insecurity, the intuitive thought is that we need more food. And, like many thoughts shared by the public, that one is wrong. If you follow commodity markets, you know that grain prices are currently at rock bottom and that the major economic powers of the world are sitting on enormous stockpiles of the stuff.
So no, we don’t need more food. The issue here is what many of us picture when we think of people living with food insecurity, i.e. emaciated and sad looking children in faraway lands. While that is also a real issue, hunger in America looks drastically different. In a developed country like the United States, poverty is linked closely with obesity and the health complications that accompany it. This is because people living on low incomes consume more processed foods that are high in fat and low in nutritional value. Thus, we have the phenomenon of the undernourished yet overweight. That is the hallmark of food insecurity in our communities. Five dollars does, after all, buy a lot more McDoubles than fresh produce. During the time I have spent at various food banks, I have noticed a pattern. Milk and eggs (quality sources of protein) and fresh produce are rare. It’s not a surprising trend, as these items are expensive compared to more highly processed and less perishable items. Protein and produce are vital to a balanced and nutritional diet, and they are what the food insecure people in our communities are going without.
There is an alarming amount of hunger in the world and it does not just exist in developing countries oceans away. It is in our communities and being felt by people we interact with every day. There is an unsettling lack of awareness on the part of the public regarding this issue. We are experiencing no shortage of food, but limited access to quality protein and produce. As contributing members of society, I encourage all of you to continue educating yourself on this issue so that we may combat the epidemic of food insecurity that surrounds us.