There really is no formula to defining global food insecurity. Still, many world health organizations use the term to point out deficiencies in global food security. To understand what something is, it sometimes helps to understand what it is not. This may just be the case with food insecurity. To understand food insecurity, that is, one must first define and understand food security and work backwards. If food security does not exist, then, by definition, you have food insecurity.
The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” This definition hinges on three qualifications: namely food availability, food access, and food use. Lacking one of these elements of food security, a population faces food insecurity, which can and does arise in an endless permutation of manners.
Global Food Insecurity: Failing Food Security Criteria
To establish food security, say, in a developing nation, food must first be available on a consistent basis. Some will argue that there is currently enough food in the world to feed everyone in the world. Nonetheless, people go hungry due to inconsistency in their daily intake of food. For example, one may go days without a meal. In this situation, a cornucopia of food, arriving two weeks later, does nothing to alleviate that person’s current hunger. As such, food security depends on food availability.
Second, the nation’s population must have access to the right kinds of food to sustain a healthy diet. Not only must a person have food available, that is, it must be the right kind of food. For example, a human cannot survive on rice alone. We need all different kinds of food to live healthy lives. The definition of healthy diet here also includes accommodations to particular dietary needs, such as avoiding certain foods or increasing intake of others.
Finally, food security requires appropriate use of food based on adequate knowledge of basic nutrition and care. In order to maintain a healthy diet, one must know how to eat the food that is available to him or her and portion that food out in a way that best serves the needs of his or her body. When USAID drops bags of food over Africa, for example, it will be helpful to also teach those receiving the aid how to ration the food. Basic sanitation and access to water are included in appropriate use to complete the qualifications of food security.
If even one of these three elements or qualifications is not met, it is easy to see how even a full plate of food, three times a day, may not be enough to maintain a healthy diet. Food security requires that the food is enough to satisfy the short, mid, and long-term needs of the human body and that the person consuming the food does so in an appropriate manner to maintain him or herself. Global food insecurity, or deficient food security from a worldwide perspective, exists in a world where even one person goes hungry.
Though great strides have been made in alleviating global hunger, the current level of food insecurity is unacceptable. Even in the United States, 1 out of 10 households were food insecure, hence the importance of food provision and education programs, like, local food banks. To learn more about food (in)security in the U.S., you can visit this site.
– Herman Watson
Sources: U.S. Food Aid and Security, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization
Photo: Security and Sustainability Forum