Picture an average family — mom, dad, two kids — on the brink of going hungry right around the holidays.
They're not homeless. In fact, both parents have jobs, but they're low-paying jobs, which means living paycheck-to-paycheck is the norm.
Since money is incredibly tight, mom and dad may skip a meal here and there, so their kids can eat, but they manage to get by. That is, until their son winds up in the hospital with appendicitis, which inevitably gouges the meager savings they keep for emergencies.
Now this family has found itself in the terrifying position of not knowing how to pay for the next meal.
This scenario isn't a hypothetical and doesn't just exist in the poorer recesses of this country. It's all around us — in every county in America.
According to the USDA, 41 million Americans were food insecure in 2016 — that's 1 in every 8 people. That means you've probably interacted with people recently who are currently struggling to afford food for themselves and their families. And it's not that they're not trying — food insecurity can simply become the unfortunate reality when something more crucial, like medical care, needs to be paid for. Food is often the first thing on the chopping block.
Think that's surprising? Then there's probably a lot more you don't know.
Here are seven other facts about food insecurity in America and what we're doing to help stop it.
1. Food insecurity, on average, affects more women and people of color.
Based on statistics collected by The National Commission of Hunger, 12.8% of households run by women experience food insecurity compared to just 7% of male-run households. Meanwhile black households are more than twice as likely to experience hunger compared to white households. No doubt the gender and racial wage gaps have had some effect on these numbers.
2. A driving force behind food insecurity in America seems to be a lack of savings.
We all know we're supposed to put money aside for emergencies and big budget things, but it can be difficult when people have pressing needs like food, clothes, and shelter. According to a survey conducted by GOBankingRates, 57% of Americans currently have less than $1,000 in their savings. This means all it could take is one unpredicted medical issue to drain that savings and throw a family into a financial strain where their ability to buy food is compromised.
3. One person's incarceration can leave entire families hungry.
If a family's sole breadwinner is put in prison, it can become incredibly difficult for them to make ends meet and put food on the table. This doesn't necessarily change when that person is released. In fact, according to the The National Commission of Hunger's survey, 90% of formerly incarcerated individuals' households experience food insecurity. This is likely due to a number of factors, including how a prison record can affect job prospects.
4. Hunger affects many children's mental and physical health.
According to the nonprofit Feeding America, 13 million children face hunger in America today. If children under the age of 3 don't get enough food to eat, they face a whole host of health issues, including risks of anemia and asthma. As they grow up, lack of nutrition can cause social and behavioral issues, affect academic performance, and even increase suicidal thoughts and actions. It's amazing to think that regular meals can make such a difference.
5. In a country where so many people are food insecure, we waste an unfathomable amount of food every year.
72 billion pounds of perfectly good food goes into landfills and incinerators every year, and that doesn't include the food we throw away at home. In economic language, that's roughly $218 billion worth of food waste. Those statistics are even more absurd when you think about it in conjunction with how many people are going to bed hungry tonight. The solution to this terrible problem is staring up at us from giant landfills across the country.
6. The good news is, a number of organizations are working to end hunger and food insecurity using surplus food.
Photo via Kroger.
The Kroger Family of Companies, one of the country's leading grocery retailers, donated the equivalent of 330 million meals to people in need in 2016. They take food that’s expiring, but still perfectly edible and nutritious, off their shelves and give it to organizations that help feed the hungry, thereby helping close the food waste gap.
They've also given $3 million to Feeding America in honor of its annual hunger awareness campaign, Bringing Hope to the Table.
7. You too can help end hunger and food insecurity by taking some simple steps.
Donations like the ones described above could not be completed without the charitable work of everyday people. Thanks to community efforts, this movement is making real progress. You can aid that progress by advocating to end hunger with organizations like Feeding America and, of course, by volunteering your time at a local food bank.
Food insecurity is an ongoing crisis in our country, but as long as there are people and organizations who strive to change that, American families that are struggling to eat will have a lifeline.
The next time you're at the grocery store, remember that family from above could be behind you in the checkout line, hoping they have enough money to cover basic supplies. Perhaps it's time to extend a hand to your neighbors?
Find out more about how The Kroger Family of Companies and Feeding America are helping combat food insecurity: