Sunday, March 23, 2014

How secure is food in Passaic County?

Food is life, food is medicine, food is fuel and most importantly food is good! With all that being said it is obvious that food is a huge part of our lives, it has been calculated that Americans spend two and half hours eating or drinking everyday! However, in this same study they found that as household income decreases so does the amount of time spent with food. That means the amount of time spent on shopping for food, preparing, serving, and consuming food all go down along with income, why is this? Is it because people with lower income don’t have time for food, or is it because there isn’t ample food readily available for them and their families. It has been found that it is a combination of the two. Families with lower incomes spend a lot of their time working and eat when they are at work, usually during a break or while they work. The foods they consume are relatively quick and mostly prepared. These families also spend less time grocery shopping, mostly because they don’t have the time, energy, or enough resources to reach a supermarket which will have fresh products with great nutritional value.
The Hunger-Free Committee did an assessment and found some alarming facts about the 32,000 food insecure households of Passaic County. In this assessment they found 17% of these household get most of their food from corner stores and bodegas. Let’s picture this for a moment. How much fresh and nutritional food can you really fit into a bodega? And, are bodegas really known for having the best quality of food, yes and no. My father used to own a bodega back in the day, and he was able to provide the staples to his customers. These included milk, eggs, and a lot of root vegetables like yucca, potatoes, and even plantains. However, this isn’t enough to feed a family, especially when some of the produce may be going bad or some items have gone past their expiration date. And, the households of Passaic County know this, 37% of them know this and admitted that they would but their food somewhere else if they could. So why can’t they?
It comes down to availability, availability is a great measure of how food secure you are. If availability isn’t stable then neither is the security of your food. Around 26% of Passaic County residents believe that safe and nutritious food is very unavailable to them and their families! They rely on farmer’s markets, community gardens, and food co-op programs. However, not all these get used throughout the year, mostly when they are in season. Once they are out of season household rely on the corner stores wishing they could go to other places to get their food. The reason they cannot get their food however is due to the distance they would have to travel to get to a supermarket. In the assessment they found 73% of people drive to the location, that leaves 27% of people without access to safe and nutritious food! These people who don’t have access to food do not have a car or are unable to drive and in turn would have to rely on public transportation, which isn’t always available. Elderly citizens are of most concern with transportation because they don’t have the resources to get their own foods, whether it be because they can’t get to the supermarket or because they can’t carry their goods home.
Programs focused on elderly care and their food insecurity would be a great help to the people of Passaic county, especially down-county. Another key factor in the unavailability of food is money. A lot of Passaic county residents experience food insecurity due to high food and housing costs, low wage, and unemployment. These are common in many households and severely impact their ability to find food that is readily available to them and their family. Families that have high housing costs spend close to half of their income on rent, the rest of their income has to be divided between food and other expenses. It is often difficult for these families to keep up with the demands of life and still put food on the table. What is normal in families experiencing these hardships is choosing other necessities over food that is nutritious. These families tend to get cheap processed foods because it’s convenient.
So what’s the solution? First and foremost, there needs to be education, education of food, budgeting, and wellness. These, when understood, are very effective and managing the hardships of hunger and security. Secondly awareness, not all residents of Passaic county are aware of all the county has to offer to help ease and end the danger of food security. The programs that are most used are farmer’s markets and pantries, but the county offers a lot more than that there are many community gardens that work to help families doubling their value of SNAP benefits to allow them to buy more produce. Lastly, there needs to be a change in the way our public policy handles food insecurity in the county. It is up to us and you to get involved with your community to make and demand for change. Asking the government to create more resources so people can get access to food as well as asking for use of land to create gardening spaces. The government is supposed to help you, but they can’t help you if they can’t hear you.


For more information on Food Insecurity please see the United Way of Passaic County PowerPoint here.  

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