Global per capita food production has been steadily increasing for decades and the number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished. But according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. food insecurity is at its highest rate since the USDA first started reporting on the phenomenon in 1995. What’s going on?
The ERS reports that in 2008, 14.6% of all U.S households had difficulty securing enough food at some point during the year, up from 11.1% in 2007. And 5.7% of all households had very low food security (eating patterns were disrupted at some point due to lack of food), up from 4.1% in 2007.
As you might expect, the main reason for the drop in food security is the economy. More layoffs means higher rates of poverty, and in turn more people who don’t have enough food. The government has tried to put a band-aid on the problem with nutrition assistance benefits for the 36.5 million people who participate in the USDA’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (AKA the Food Stamp Program) and the 31 million kids who participate in the USDA National School Lunch program. But it’s obviously not enough.
One suggestion: Consider innovations originally designed for the developing world. PATH’s Ultra Rice system, for example, stuffs vitamins and minerals into rice-shaped grains. When blended with traditional rice, the Ultra Rice drastically increases its nutritional value–a potential boon for families who are forced to rely on nutrient-poor meals from McDonalds. Innovations like Ultra Rice may not solve the food insecurity problem, but they can at least provide a boost to government assistance programs.