By Hope Anderson
Being from a state that celebrates, mourns, and defines its very culture with food, my upbringing was surrounded in what seemed to be an abundance of the stuff. However, millions of Americans — students, babies, coworkers — go hungry each day, unsure of where their next meal will come from.
Food insecurity. Have you thought much about the term and its implications? Before delving into studying nutrition and becoming a registered dietitian (RD), I really had not spent much time thinking about hunger in America. But during my residency in nutrition at Vanderbilt, I had a rotation through Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. I was able to visit with actual families facing hunger at an emergency food pantry. I prepared educational materials to guide individuals benefiting from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as the Food Stamp Program — through the grocery store, showing them how to make the best use of their SNAP dollars.
During this rotation, I dared to do the SNAP Challenge, during which I ate on $4.40/day to experience firsthand the reality of feeding myself on SNAP benefits. It was not easy. Staying within the budget was a challenge in and of itself. I remember reaching for strawberries to add to the cart, realizing I would not be able to “afford” them that week.
We are seeing unbelievable rates of obesity in those receiving food assistance. Sadly, the dollar stretches much further with chips and honey buns, in comparison to fruits and vegetables. This contradictory concept of hunger and obesity coinciding has been termed the hunger-obesity paradox. The reality is, when a food insecure family is faced with choosing between inexpensive, calorie-dense food or more expensive, healthier items like fresh produce, the former, more affordable option will likely win out, leading to an overweight — yet, still nutritionally malnourished — family.
As humans, we have a basic need for food to provide us with energy and nutrients in order to live, grow, move, thrive, and maintain health. When a family is plagued by food insecurity, the implications reach much further than the table. Children who have limited food access aren’t able to receive key nutrients they require to grow and develop. In fact, intermittent hunger in children is associated with increased developmental risk. A child’s nutrition status during early stages of life largely impacts his or her health status later in life, so it is of utmost importance to provide children with proper nutrition from early on.
As a dietitian, my mission is to leave the world a better, healthier place. On a daily basis, I empower people to eat, move, and live well by showing them how to balance wellness with everyday life. To echo the words of Virginia Woolf, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Addressing hunger in America by making wholesome foods available to the food insecure is paramount if we are to ensure bright futures for our children and a healthier nation overall.
H O P E A N D E R S O N, R D, L D N
Registered Dietitian | Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist
H e a l t h w i t h H o p e | O w n e r & F o u n d e r
1100 N. 18th Street, Monroe, LA 71201
- 512. 0965