By Holly Glen Gearhart
We lose a few things as we age, but sufficient food should not be one of them, not in a nation of abundance like ours. Look around. Many seniors are experiencing hunger on a daily basis; a lack of funds and/or the inability to stand and cook a meal; or dietary restrictions that their food stamps cannot cover. This issue is not going away on its own, even though the world over, tons of foods are tossed away or left to die in the fields every day.
Today hunger is often called “Food Insecurity.” According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economical access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Food security means you have the money to buy food; transportation to get to the grocery store to buy the food; and a way to prepare that food in a nutritious way according to your individual dietary needs, including needs based on medical conditions, allergies or religious beliefs.
Food insecurity is a problem for all, but the senior population is growing so fast that it is now the hardest hit of all populations, and it’s predicted to stay that way in the future. According to the website of Feeding America, “Nearly four million U.S. seniors are food insecure. Many of these older Americans live on fixed incomes, and are often forced to choose between buying groceries or paying for health care, housing, or other basic essentials.”
“Feeding America wants to highlight the… profound need for food assistance that affects so many of our senior citizens in need,” said Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America, a hunger relief charity that helps provide food to over 37 million Americans every year.
Food banks have been deeply affected by the economic downturn, and shelves that are usually filled in good times are woefully empty in hard times.
A growing number of food pantry clients are 65 and older, and more than half report visiting a food pantry on a monthly basis, according to Feeding America’s recently released report, “Food Banks: Hunger’s New Staple.” Obviously the fixed incomes of the elderly are fast becoming insufficient to provide for their basic nutrition.
“We are deeply concerned that as Congress looks for ways to reduce the deficit, cuts to nutrition assistance programs that help low-income seniors are on the table. Already this year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a Budget Resolution that would cut $133.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House Agriculture Committee recently approved $36 billion in cuts to SNAP. Cuts to SNAP, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and other federal anti-hunger and nutrition programs would make it much harder for our food bank to safeguard local seniors from hunger,” Escarra warns.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) food waste is at an all-time high. Fifty percent more food is wasted in the U.S. today than there was in the 1970s. The problem is not isolated to what we buy and toss away; we must look for ways to reduce food waste from farms and grocery stores, as well.
We need to tap all of the resources we have in each community. For example, we should consider resurrecting the “victory garden.” How many open spaces go to waste that could yield fruits, vegetables and herbs for the community?
And both the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts have badges in community service and gardening. Why not put these programs into action? We could use them to address our food insecurity; educate a new generation in social responsibility and provide more social commitment between the senior population and the younger generation.