Melissa Musiker is a registered dietician and a member of APCO’s Washington, D.C., health policy team.
Today is Food Day in the United States. Food Day is an event coordinated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest with the goal of bringing together eaters of all types “to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.” According to its organizers, Food Day is a nationwide grassroots mobilization for healthier diets and improved food policies. With literally thousands of events big and small being planned for today, it is clear that people are thinking about their food more than they ever have before.
Not everyone will agree with all of the principles or policy goals of Food Day. But the ethos of the day – a focus on food justice – is something that we can all step back for a moment to consider. On the heels of the UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases and with the holiday season rapidly approaching, it is a time of year that we remember that so many people around the world are hungry.
In the United States in particular, and increasingly across the globe, the face of hunger and of malnutrition is changing. In the nutrition community we have spoken for some time about the hunger-obesity paradox – not having enough food to eat and simultaneously being overweight or even obese. It is so counter-intuitive: how can one be food-insecure but at the same time appear to have eaten, at least over time, enough to be obese?
According to the USDA, food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).
Malnutrition results when the diet is imbalanced and nutrients are lacking, consumed in excess, or in the wrong proportion. And as such, one can be obese, malnourished, and food-insecure all at the same time. For so long, the paradigm for addressing food insecurity and hunger has simply been to feed people, addressing hunger by being sure stomachs were full.
The current hunger-obesity paradox suggests that we have succeeded in creating enough calories to feed the hungry. But the epidemic of chronic disease suggests that we have a long way to go before we have succeeded in making sure that everyone is truly food-secure. The epidemic of obesity among those experiencing food insecurity suggests that we need to reframe our thinking beyond simply feeding people and find ways to nourish them. This is the concept of food justice that is at the heart of Food Day.