Module 11: The Food Environment: Hunger and Food Insecurity



  1. To gain an understanding of the concepts of hunger and food insecurity.
  2. To interpret and critique how hunger and food security issues are presented in the media and research literature.
  3. To introduce and evaluate some of the methods used to evaluate hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. and in other countries.
Activities: See Black Board

Hunger and Food Insecurity

Food Insecurity Indicators

  1. No food: Having days in the past month/ six months during which there was no food in the house or no resources to obtain food.
  2. Skipping meals: Having days in the past month/ six months when the interviewee indicated a meal or meals were skipped.
  3. Choosing bills or food: Having to choose between buying food or paying bills in the past month/six months.
  4. Choosing to buy medicine or food: Having to choose between obtaining food or purchasing medicine in the past month/six months.

What Do Hunger and Food Insecurity Mean in the United States?

Recurrent and involuntary lack of access to sufficient food which can lead to malnutrition over time

  • Poverty
  • Constrained resources

The Census Bureau’s Hunger Survey

  1. Until very recently there was no national survey of hunger.
  2. Since 1995 the U.S. Census Bureau has conducted an annual survey of food security among a nationally representative sample of people living in the U.S.
  3. There were different levels of food insecurity.
  4. Households are classified as
    a. food secure
    b. food insecure
    c. food insecure with hunger according to the answers to these questions.

5. In 2006, the USDA Economic Research Service asked the National Academies of Science to carry out an independent review of the survey methodology.
6. They concluded that the survey and the methodology to measure food insecurity were appropriate and that it was important to continue monitoring food security.
7. However, they felt that the descriptions of categories should be revised to better convey that it is a measure of household food insecurity.

New terms to describe food security are:

  1. High Food Security: These are households that did not answer ‘yes’ to any of the food insecurity questions.
  2. Marginal Food Security: This term captures families that answered ‘yes’ to one or two of the food security questions, meaning they have has some difficulties with securing enough food. Previously, they would have been categorized as “Food Secure.”
  3. Low Food Security: This term replaces “Food Insecurity without Hunger.” Generally, people that fall into this category have had to make changes in the quality or the quantity of their food in order to deal with a limited budget.
  4. Very Low Food Security: This term replaces “Food Insecurity with Hunger.” People that fall into this category have struggled with having enough food for the household, including cutting back or skipping meals on a frequent basis for both adults and children.

The Disappearance of Hunger in America?

  1. Redefinition of Food Security (Allen article)
  2. Focus on statistics (not politics?)
  3. Damages the struggle against hunger
  4. Highlights science over lived experience – the hungry do not have the right to claim they are hungry or to seek political redress
  5. “Scientize” hunger – negates earlier work that attempted to expand the concept of food insecurity
  6. The way issues are framed determines the importance that is attached to them
  7. Because hunger is not assessed in the newer surveys – Committee on National Statistics decided it does not exist.
  8. Hunger is not an analytical category – so we can not “talk” about it

How is Oregon doing with regard to hunger and food insecurity?

  • 71% of adults worried about where their next meal would come from at least sometimes
  • 21% of children had been forced to skip meals from lack of money to buy food
  • 39% of these children had been forced to skip meals every month.
  • Oregon worked hard to impact hunger over the past 8 years, when it was dubbed    the “Hungriest State in the Nation” in 2000.
  • In 2008, the US Department of Agriculture reported that Oregon had 12.4 percent of its population (458,000 people) living in households that struggled with hunger or were “food insecure.”
  • Oregon was ranked #3 in the nation for “very low food security” the term used to describe those households that skipped meals or reduced their food intake to make ends meet.
  • Nov. 16, 2009 Report
  • Oregon is now among the five states with the highest hunger rate, in the company of Mississippi, Maine, Oklahoma and Missouri.
  • 13.1 percent of Oregon households experienced food insecurity.
  • Compares to 11.9 percent during the 2003-05 period – a 1.2 percent increase.
  • Only Mississippi, at 7.4 percent, had a higher percentage than Oregon of hunger

Reframing the Issue of Food Insecurity
Community Food Security
“a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.”

Assignment (See assignments page)