What Is Food Insecurity?

People participating in a food drive.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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Food insecurity is a situation in which people cannot meet their dietary needs consistently. This may range from situations in which people experience periodic trouble with food access to famine, in which people are simply unable to obtain food at any time. Globally, inconsistent access to food is an issue of considerable concern politically, environmentally, socially, and ethically. A number of programs have been put in place to fight hunger and reduce food insecurity.

A number of things can lead to food insecurity. One simple cause is lack of economic access. People who do not have money cannot afford to buy food or cannot afford to make sound nutritional choices because they lack the funds to make good purchasing decisions. Some programs which are concerned with food security issues provide access to food through food stamps, food banks, and other measures which are designed to provide hungry people with nutritious food.


Food insecurity can also be related to issues such as climate change, which can have a profound impact on crops, along with political or social unrest. If a country is in turmoil, food deliveries may be delayed, leading to the inability to access food at any price, and farmers may also have difficulty getting crops in the ground. Wars can also lead to the destruction of crops and farmland, leaving hunger in their aftermath. Cultural values about food and eating may also be involved in food security. For example, in some cultures lower ranking members of the household eat last, and may not have access to the more nutritious components of a meal.

In some countries there are safety nets in place which are intended to assist people during periods of food insecurity. Even in these nations, however, hunger and malnutrition are ongoing issues. In the United States, for example, the United States Department of Agriculture noted in 2008 that approximately 15% of American households experienced food insecurity at some point during the year. Public assistance and benefits do not kick in immediately and during periods in which people experience problems getting food there may be a delay between the onset of the problem and the provision of help.

Socially, food insecurity is an issue because it can lead to food riots, rising food prices in response to competition which cause unrest, and other causes of social and political instability. It is also an environmental concern as there are close ties between food production and environmental health. There are also ethical concerns; many people believe that other people should not be allowed to go hungry and that people and governments in a position to alleviate hunger have an obligation to act.


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