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11172012-3 This week is Thanksgiving and for many of us that means a day to argue and visit with family, to watch football, to pig out, and to then to nap.  Many families have their traditional Thanksgiving dishes—turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. It is a feast to be thankful for. There are, however, millions of Americans who will not feast on Thanksgiving. For these Americans, food is not something to take for granted. The USDA classifies them as ‘food insecure.’

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” According to the World Health Organization, there are three components to food security: availability, access, and use. Food availability is whether enough food is regularly available to you. Food access is whether you have the physical and economic resources to acquire nutritious foods. Food use refers to nutrition, preparation, and sanitation.11172012-1

This week, learn more about hunger in America. Who does it affect? How is it measured? What are the side effects? How prevalent is it? What programs offer help? It is a complex issue; as you explore the statistics, graphs, interviews, and personal accounts, record the effects and causes of food insecurity on a cluster diagram. Establish your baseline by testing your knowledge about hunger before you begin.

About Food Security

The USDA measures food security and food insecurity. Isn’t food security really just a euphemism for ‘hunger?’ The USDA does not measure hunger. According to the USDA, there are ranges of food security—from high food security to very low food security. To assess food security in the United States, 45,000 households answered a food security survey. Examine the questions. How would you answer them?

11172012-2 What do you expect are the results of the 2011 survey? Examine key graphics and statistics. What percentage of homes were food secure in 2011? How has food security in America changed from 2010 to 2011? What percentage of households with children were food insecure in 2011? How many people were food insecure in 2011? Of these people, were there trends regarding household composition, ethnicity, income, residential area, and region of the country? Who is most likely to experience food insecurity? Why might this be? What do you predict are the characteristics of households with very low food security? Which states are most food secure and food insecure? Do you notice any geographic trends?

Children, Seniors, and Hunger

Because children are growing, having consistent nutritious meals is important. Children too are innocent bystanders affected by forces such as unemployment and food prices. 60 Minutes probes the effects and causes of food insecurity on children in Hunger and Poverty in America. If you cannot watch the entire 13 minutes, be sure to watch through 6:27, and then 10:20 through the end.11172012-5

The 60 Minutes episode shares a sobering and personal view of children and hunger in America. Take a step back and visit Feeding America’s website, a non-profit dedicated to ending hunger in America. It maintains a network of food banks with services for people affected by food insecurity, including children. Read the facts behind child hunger. Child hunger is not only about a rumbling belly. The lack of consistent, nutritious meals affects child development, and education.

Feeding America visualizes food insecurity with a Meal Gap Map. Watch the video that explains child food insecurity. Then, visit the Meal Gap Map. As with all graphics, familiarize yourself with the keys and contents before you dig into the content. Click on the four green tabs at the bottom; each contains a question and answer that will help explain how to read and interpret the Map. Move up and take in the yellow bar, statistics for food security nationwide. Next, scroll over the map to reveal food security statistics across the country. What does food security look like nationally, regionally, and locally?  Finally, click on the tab for Child Food Security Rates. How does the map change? How do these national statistics differ from those of the general population? What observations do you have about child food security nationally, regionally, and locally?

11172012-4 As innocent bystanders, children garner much attention when people talk about food insecurity. However, other demographics are also particularly at risk, especially seniors. They also suffer physical and mental affects of food insecurity.

Ending Hunger in Your Corner of the World

Perhaps you are one of the millions who are not certain when or what your next meal will be. Feeding America offers you resources as well. Find a local foodbank, learn more about Feeding America’s network programs, public assistance programs, and child hunger programs. There are four programs in each category. Click on the thumbnails to discover who each serves, what services it provides, and who qualifies.

A well-filled belly. The security of knowing that each day comes with three nutritious meals. A mind and body undisturbed by thoughts and sensations of hunger. These seem like basic human needs, something that should be true for everyone. But, they are not. ‘Food security’ stands as a stark reminder that every meal is one to be thankful for and every belly is not full. It will do no one any good for you to pass on the pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving. But, what can you do? Plenty. Feeding America welcomes your help: write a letter to Congress, volunteer, create an online food drive, or join the Hunger Action Committee.