Food Insecurity: What Does It Mean and What Can You Do?

Homeless man on street

As a kid, I remember being aware that my family was poor, but also being so thankful that we never had to worry about where our next meal would come from.

For many children in the United States, worry about their next meal is a daily event.

So what is food insecurity, and what can we do about it?

What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity means someone doesn’t have a sustainable, reliable resource for food. This can be caused by a shortage of money, lack of transportation, or living in a food desert (no easily accessible resources).

In inner cities, food deserts are common because grocery stores are relatively far away. Frequently, the nearest source of food is a convenience store, meaning healthy food is not available.

In rural areas, lack of economic resources to purchase food is more common.

Issues in My Area

Living in a college town, I see a mix of the issues of inner-city and rural life. We don't generally have a problem with food deserts, but a larger problem is the inability to buy food.

One of the ways people in our community combat hunger is by putting together and delivering Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. People donate canned foods and turkey and ham to be packed and delivered to families who can’t afford to buy the meals themselves.

My Own Experience

When I was in elementary school, my brother and I were on the free lunch list at school, which also meant on Fridays each of us got a grocery bag full of foods like applesauce, Vienna sausages, cheese crackers, and gummies. I remember practically being forced to take it even though I knew we didn’t really need it.

In my school, the qualification for free and reduced lunches is based on the yearly income of a household. While my mom made enough to keep us well fed with good food, we still met the qualifications for the program.

I can’t say I remember a time that my mom, a single working mother, didn’t manage to give us healthy food. We chose frozen over canned foods if we didn’t have time for fresh food, and I remember chips practically being a luxury.

One night I was in bed wondering what it would be like if we didn’t have enough money for food. I was in early elementary school. I realized that even though we didn’t have much, our needs were still met, and I was grateful for that.


There are many organizations, especially in cities, that work to provide hot meals and fresh vegetables to people and families who can’t afford or find healthy food.

The most common requests on a food bank’s list are canned foods, and most canned foods are about $1 or less. The price of these goods make it simple to give to an organization who can get it out to people who need it.

In Washington D.C., the Capital Area Food Bank sorts fresh foods and tries to find ways to give better food to people around the city. They are the largest food bank in the area, and by helping to solve hunger, they are working to prevent medical issues related to unhealthy eating habits.

Bread for the World is a nonprofit that works to fight hunger by educating people. When I went to their office in D.C., Bread for the World gave us statistics on how much the federal government spends in different areas. A small percentage goes to helping to feed people not just in the U.S. but all around the world. The problem is, the amount of money going towards feeding people globally is dropping, and although it still covers a massive number of people, the efforts are fading.

Bread for the World teaches people how to go straight to a place where they can truly make a change: Congress. By writing letters to Congress, we can use our voices as citizens to facilitate a change.

Blog by Ashley Fan, 2019 National Acteens Panelist

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


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