Author: Lauren Jelinek
Food security should be a human right for all. However, in some communities, it can be difficult to maintain a steady and secure supply of nutritious food. In Canada alone, the most recent statistics show that 8.8% or 1.2 million households experience food insecurity. Furthermore, since the onset of the global pandemic, more and more people feel motivated to take control of their food supply. This isn’t impossible - and there are many options to boost your food security without opening up a 250-acre farm or herding cattle. How do we begin to define such a broad topic?
A community experiences food security when all people constantly have access - socially, economically, and physically - to food that is safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate. Additionally, this food meets their preferences and needs, and suits an active, healthy lifestyle. With the increasing prevalence of global transportation networks and more efficient forms of agriculture and shipping, food security has become an attainable goal for many living in the Western world. However, this is not always the case, and many areas around the world can have high rates of food insecurity within their populations. Therefore, food security is a complex and urgent issue with global repercussions. The security an individual, community, or city experiences regarding their food supply, quantity, and quality can fluctuate and is often influenced by a number of factors.
Source: Daria Shevtsova, licensed by Pexels
There are four key components integral to achieving food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability.
- Food availability ensures that people can access enough nutritious, quality food.
- Food access means that people have access to the resources for growing their own food or that they can acquire enough food for a healthy diet.
- Food utilization is when people have access to a sufficient quantity and variety of food for nutrition, but can also eat and metabolize it properly.
- Food stability refers to enduring availability and accessibility of utilizable food over a long period of time, rather than fluctuating to malnutrition and insecurity.
Food insecurity can be caused by a variety of social, environmental, and economic stressors such as climate change, population growth, and rising food costs that are dictated by the stock market. Many variables impact access to food, and there are a number of avenues for lessening the potential for food insecurity. For example, policy and individual or community action can address factors such as water allocation, land use, trade, food processing, and food prices. Sustainable forms of agriculture and building resilience against threats to food security (such as natural disasters) are also potential ways to ensure food security.
Maintaining food security is a global responsibility, and the western world is often idealized for its abundance. However, the reality is that food insecure areas can be found throughout the USA and Canada, and communities of color and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected. In the USA, food deserts, which are areas where many people lack access to supermarkets and transportation, exist in many cities. In food deserts, communities are underserved and lack access to fresh, healthy food; oftentimes, fast food outlets are widely available rather than places to purchase fruits and vegetables. In poorer and/ or racialized communities, people have easy access to unhealthy food but grocery stores are far away and inconvenient to access. Nearly half of the 23.5 million people living in food deserts are also low-income. However, this issue is not always tied to low-income communities and persists in a variety of areas. The problem is so severe that Memphis, TN is often called the “hunger capital” of the USA.
Source: Food Environment Atlas, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service
Canada is not immune from food insecurity either. In northern Canada, Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by limited access to healthy food, which is exacerbated by high food prices, a shortened growing season, and limited access to the region. Potential solutions, such as creating a universal basic income and expanding the Nutrition North program (a federal program seeking to increase food affordability in remote northern areas) to include subsidies for gardening and hunting, have been proposed to address the insecurities. Politicians have suggested that territorial and Indigenous governments should have a greater say in these programs, and have critiqued the corporate subsidies that undermine local economies, systems and farming. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and community involvement and projects will likely result in greater success.
Food security faces many challenges at a range of scales. However, community and individual-level food security can be addressed in ways that are accessible and empowering, such as with technology. Growing your own food creates a hyper-local food system for not just your household but also those around you, and can be an engaging way to enhance community food security. Becoming self-reliant in growing your own food helps to shift some of our reliance away from grocery stores. Individuals can avoid the disadvantages of big chain produce (and can know the food miles your groceries traveled, refrain from harmful practices associated with big agriculture, and ensure food is contaminant-free), by becoming their own food supply.
Families, individuals or communities can make themselves more food secure by being their own food supply and using year-round gardening technologies, such as the Nutritower. This indoor vertical hydroponic garden system with center column lighting is bigger than a countertop garden but can still fit in any home. It produces up to 32 plants at a time, allowing you to eat your own fresh produce on a daily basis free from pesticides and herbicides. Additionally, It's easy enough for beginners to grow their own fresh food and is strongly appreciated by seasoned gardeners who use it to grow a wider variety of produce. Not only is autonomous indoor gardening healthy and stable (ensuring year-long bounty!), but using tools like the Nutritower allows people to support systems without negative side effects rather than big agriculture or large corporations. Using a hyper-local, autonomous system can also be a great project for kids, schools, or families to learn about what goes into creating a food-secure environment.
"Today we harvested our first peppers and for dinner had a family sized salad grown almost entirely on the tower (minus the cucumber). Lettuce, kale, peppers and cherry tomatoes. 14 feet from “field” to table!"
Creating a world with global food security and safety may seem like an insurmountable task. By making changes in our own lives, however, individuals can combat food insecurity with home growing technologies. These systems are a valuable way to increase food security for yourself and those around you, and in times of uncertainty (like now), are the perfect way to reclaim your access to food.