Estimates of the U.S. population that are considered "food-insecure" are higher in reality than as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Director of the UCF Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences James Wright, the provost’s distinguished research professor in UCF's department of sociology, held an event Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.to address food insecurities in America.
Wright’s lecture, titled “An Ungrateful Wretch: Studies of Food Insecurity in the Region, the State and Beyond,” was given as part of the UCF Science Café seminar series, which was held in the Physical Sciences building to an audience of about 120 students, some of which had no place to sit. Wright aimed to show how widespread the problem of food insecurity is in the country, and how present attempts to quell the social dilemma, such as nutritional guidelines for public school lunches and SNAP benefits, are failing to make any significant progress in reducing those numbers.
USDA surveys have inadequate standardized data measurement procedures, Wright said, and they use misleading terms that diminish the severity of the hunger problem in America.
In one swoop and one report, he said the USDA has simply gotten rid of hunger from the national political agenda.
“A huge issue for anybody working in this area is public awareness that this is even a problem,” he said. “I talk to many people who tell me, ‘I mean, I understand the business about food insecurity, but we have food stamps, we have school feeding programs, we have WIC [a federally-funded nutrition program for women, infants and children]; we have all these programs, so surely, that has solved the problem.’ So the main takeaway from me is: ‘No, it has not.’”
According to the 2014 results from a USDA study of Household Food Security in the United States — a survey that distributes a questionnaire to American households in order to obtain statistics concerning food insecurity — only 14 percent of American households are food-insecure, with 5.6 percent designated as severely food-insecure. This percentage declined from 14.3 percent in 2013.
Whether the results of the study proportionately reflect the severity of the issue in America is difficult to tell, but the fact remains that people are going hungry, and some individuals, such as junior mechanical engineering major Matthew Coalson, would like solutions to the problem.
Coalson, who is also the local projects manager of the Engineers Without Borders UCF chapter, was a bit disappointed after Wright concluded his speech because he prefers hearing about potential solutions and using his engineering background to make those solutions a reality.
“I wish he had solutions. I wish he had, even if they weren’t solid answers, I wish he had at least expressed with enthusiasm what he thinks we should do because just saying the problems is not really working in the right direction, at least to me,” he said.
However, Wright said the solution to America’s food insecurity is not so simple because the main culprit is an even larger societal issue: income equality. Wright emphasized that the problem of food insecurity stems from the extreme income inequality in the American population, making solutions difficult to accomplish.
“It’s a little hard to say, ‘OK, so do the following six things to reduce income inequality’ because the inequalities that exist in American society are so firmly embedded in our political and social structure and thinking, and that’s where the change has to happen,” Wright said.
Gabby Baquero is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.