After Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration, many of us were curious to see what role our first Second Gentleman of the United States of America would play. It was definitely refreshing to see Doug Emhoff take on food insecurity as an issue in his first official outing. Days after the inauguration, Emhoff visited an urban farm at Washington, D.C.’s Kelly Miller Middle School operated by Dreaming Out Loud.

I think we all have an idea of what food insecurity is, but we definitely benefit from having definitions provided by the Department of Agriculture. Definitions help when we’re trying to scale solutions to large numbers of people.

Food insecurity and hunger are closely related, but they are distinct concepts. Food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort.

If we’re going to be talking about food insecurity, we’ll want to make sure we know what food deserts are. These are a lot like what they sound like. They are areas where people have limited access to affordable and healthy foods. Yes. I use the term access to healthy food and not just access to food intentionally.

A 2018 USDA study estimated 37.2 million people in the United States were living in food-insecure households that year. I can only guess that number has increased given we are in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that has turned so many of the country’s households upside-down. Feeding America puts the current estimate at 50 million people (17 million children). The issue disproportionately affects households with children and, unsurprisingly, the Black and Hispanic population.

Historically, children in the United States have benefitted from food assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A strategy to lower the number of people living with food insecurity would reasonably involve pushing our legislators for increases in SNAP like they have done in the past with measurable success.

In addition to asking assistance from the federal government to which we give so much of our hard-earned money, it is always inspiring to see food banks and food pantries opening up in various food deserts. And it’s just as inspiring to see individuals donate meals to them. Feeding America has a very useful tool on their website to help people find a local food bank.

As I continue to ask questions to people who have studied and implemented solutions to food insecurity, the more I realize how sophisticated a problem it is. For example, you have to be able to navigate the social determinants of health — of which there are many. It’s a problem that is going to take most if not all of us to chip in. Let’s see if we can do that.


Definitions of Food Security. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Christian Gregory, Matthew Rabbitt, and Anita Singh. “Household food security in the United States in 2018.” USDA-ERS Economic Research Report 270 (2019).

Emhoff highlights food insecurity on first outing as second gentleman. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

Week 22 Household Pulse Survey: January 6 – January 18. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

Food Insecurity Rocks Communities of Color Amid COVID-19. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

Food Insecurity. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

Food Insecurity in America: Causes and Solutions. Feeding America. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

What is Food Insecurity in America? Hunger & Health. Last accessed: 2/27/2021.

Dutko, Paula, Michele Ver Ploeg, and Tracey Farrigan. Characteristics and influential factors of food deserts. No. 1477-2017-3995. 2012.


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