food insecurity

i think a lot about food.  i think about what i want to eat, when to eat, who to eat with..  but i don’t think about whether or not i’ll actually get to eat that day.  except for this one time…


the summer between my junior and senior years of college, i spent a month in london.  i lived in hostels, found a temp job, and got to meet all sorts of cool people.

i also experienced food insecurity for the first time in my life.

see, i hadn’t planned well.  i found a job early on but didn’t realize i wouldn’t get my first paycheck until weeks later.  i remember one night i was in the grocery store with the cash i had left…  my plan was to buy a loaf of bread and a jar of nutella to last me for the week.  sadly, i was a couple pence short.  i scoured the floors for any dropped coins but couldn’t find anything!  so with much reluctance (and probably a few tears), i put back the jar of nutella and just bought the loaf of bread.


it’s crazy to me that in a world with such a ridiculous amount of wealth and resources, people are going to bed hungry.  nearly 49 million americans live with food insecurity (i.e. they lack consistent access to adequate food []), and 1 in 8 people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment [].

i don’t know about you, but i have a really hard time concentrating when i’m hungry.  i get lethargic, my mind wanders, and all i can think about is when i’ll be able to eat.  that summer in london, my work definitely suffered – all i remember about that job was the free tea that warmed and filled my stomach!

all of this helps me to see that those living in hunger are living in a poverty trap (i.e. any self-reinforcing mechanism which causes poverty to persist -wikipedia).  if someone can’t afford food, how can he concentrate enough at school or at work to be able to lift himself up out of his situation?  sure, it’s doable but i’d imagine it’s exponentially harder than for those who’ve had enough to eat.

i don’t have the answers, but i do have a few basic thoughts.

  • understanding.  understanding the poor is the first step to designing effective solutions (see my post on the god-complex: and my book review of poor economics:  empowering the poor is a natural and essential next step.
  • food banks.  i think food banks are part of the solution, but more needs to be done; handouts can be helpful (and are often necessary) for the short-term but won’t help (and may in fact hurt) in the long-term (see my post on relief vs rehab vs development:
  • the non-poor.  while we need to be aware of the god-complex issue, the non-poor do indeed have much to offer: skills-training and business expertise for the poor (i.e. development vs relief), donations and professional expertise for nonprofits and social enterprises, etc.  (how can we better mobilize the non-poor to help??)

there are also some interesting insights in the articles below.  anyone else have any ideas?

P.S. lest you feel sorry for me, by the end of that week in london (and after a few accidental bites of moldy bread), i had caved.  i pulled out the credit card my parents had given me, and my brief experience with food insecurity was over.


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