Breaking Bread

Summit partners researchers with those dealing with food insecurity

Sandy Rikoon is conducting an experiment with his food insecurity symposium Oct. 17-19.  Rather than only holding sessions where academics present their research conclusions into the causes and consequences of food insecurity and hunger in America, the director of MU’s Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security is creating a forum where the people on the front lines of the problem will also be telling the researchers how they use current data and what new information is needed. The concluding stages of the event will bring participants together in open dialogues to chart the next steps researchers can take to help those on the front lines of fighting hunger.

Many of the client households served by Feeding America food banks report that their household incomes are inadequate to cover their basic household expenses. 46 percent of client households served report having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food. 39 percent of client households said they had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food. 34 percent of client households report having to choose between paying for medical bills and food. 35 percent of client households must choose between transportation and food. 30 percent of households report having at least one member of their household in poor health.

This approach, Rikoon said, will give the researchers a boots-on-the-ground insight into what new data is needed to ameliorate a growing problem in America. Often, such a perspective doesn’t come through in traditional research projects, creating data results that don’t quite meet the needs of those using it.

The symposium, Food Insecurity: Assessing Disparities, Consequences and Policies, will bring researchers from institutions across the country, including Tufts University, Oregon State University, and the universities of Ohio, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Minnesota. They will meet with staff from the USDA, the Food Research and Action Center, and community program initiatives. The symposium is funded by a Mizzou Advantage grant and the Chancellor’s Fund for Excellence.

Topics will discuss obstacles to food availability, distribution and affordability; the physical and mental health impacts of a lack of food; the societal and economic consequences of food insecurity; and the effectiveness of governmental programs.

According to research, millions of people lack access to food in the U.S. Rikoon said that while there are not the levels of hunger here that are seen in some developing countries, food insecurity affects around 48 million Americans, which has negative nutritional and non-nutritional outcomes on individuals across the nation.

Sandy Rikoon is a professor and Curators Distinguished Teaching Professor in
Rural Sociology.

Rikoon’s own research into food insecurity in every one of Missouri’s counties resulted in the 2010 Missouri Hunger Atlas, a resource that provides comprehensive information about hunger across the state.   This research shows that the face of hunger in Missouri is a multi-faceted one which requires innovative and targeted solutions – not one-size-fits all programs.

The causes of these problems are many and inter-related, which makes easy solutions – and research – difficult.  For example, Missouri’s rural populations, especially those counties in the southern part of the state, have the highest number of people struggling to put food on the table, but a high rate of participation in the few programs available. At the same time suburban areas, which are often considered to more affluent, have a rising number of residents facing food security issues but a low participation rate in public programs.

Patricia Allen, chair of the Department of Food Systems and Society, Marylhurst University, and David Holben, acting associate dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions, Ohio University, will be the two main speakers.

Allen’s talk (7 p.m., Oct. 17, Stotler Lounge) is titled Serving Food Justice. Her current work focuses on food system localization and food justice. Her research on inequality in food labor is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Holben studies the problems of food insecurity, specifically families lacking the resources to feed themselves. Lack of food supply is frequently reported in other countries, but Holben says there is epidemic lack of food and hunger in the United States – more of a need than many realize. He will speak (4 p.m., Oct. 18, Stotler Lounge) on Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes: Does Food Access Really Make a Difference.