Fewer People Are Going Hungry In The U.S., But There’s Still Way Too Many

Compared to Europe, America’s rates of “food insecurity” are still startlingly high.

Should we be happy or just sad about the latest USDA food insecurity figures? A bit of both maybe. On the one hand, the Department of Agriculture data show a clear downward trend in incidence of food insecurity. At 12.7%, the food insecurity rate is a good deal better than the 14.9% it was in 2011.


On the other hand, still alarming amounts of people either do without food at certain times of the year, or, in 5% of cases, at times experience persistent disruptions to “normal eating patterns.” And 12.7% is still above pre-recession levels of 11.1%.

Also, there’s probably more insecurity in America than in other advanced countries. Gallup, the polling organization, asked people worldwide in 2011 whether in the last 12 months they didn’t have enough money for food. Twenty one percent of Americans said they didn’t have enough at some point, compared to 8% of Brits, 6% of Swedes, and 5% of Germans.

The recession sent a lot of people to food stamps and food banks, despite major cuts to federal food stamp programs recently. Between 2007 and 2012, the use of federal food assistance programs roughly doubled. USDA chief Tom Vilsack says we need to maintain the food stamp programs that “prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty or becoming food insecure during the most difficult stretches.” And he also calls on companies and the public sector to “invest in our rebounding rural communities–the place that produces our food, fiber, and fuel.”

It seems bizarre the U.S. should have a food shortage problem, given the amount of food it grows and throws away. Surely, with better food waste management and better targeting of the 5% who are genuinely hungry, we can begin to fix the problem.

[Cover Photo: Boarding1Now/iStock]

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.