By Rayna Andrews, Senior Director of Community Engagement
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin

rayna-andrewsCan you imagine a world where one in four children do not have enough food to eat? It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Well, you don’t really have to imagine it because it’s a reality in many communities across America. As the Senior Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, I’ve seen the faces of urban, rural and suburban hunger and they are very similar although the geography is different.

Each year, more than 400,000 people rely on food that comes from Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin through our network of member food pantries. Across the United States, nearly 24 million people suffer from hunger or a degree of food insecurity. Food insecurity is a measurement defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Hunger is merely a side effect of there not being enough food to eat in a household, along with headaches, memory loss, poor cognitive development and aggression.

Something has to change. We currently treat food insecurity as if it’s an individual’s problem rather than a societal issue; as if an individual is solely responsible for making a series of bad decisions that leads them to a place of poverty. I couldn’t disagree more. The “them versus us” narrative is keeping us isolated and is keeping us stuck. The truth is, as a society, we treat people like transactions. We have service organizations that operate in silos and we have programs that don’t address the root causes of problems, but rather perpetuate some of our more pressing issues. This isn’t okay and, as a community, there is something we can do about it.

I’m here to change the narrative. In my recent TEDx talk on “Food Insecurity is a Public Health Concern,” I dive into a host of issues currently holding us back from progress and offer a new public health lens to view food insecurity and address the root causes of systemic poverty.

In applying the public health lens to addressing food insecurity throughout eastern Wisconsin, I discovered four fundamental shifts that have helped Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin begin to change the narrative in our communities.

  1. To change the narrative, we first must admit the matter is complex and there is no singular solution to addressing poverty.
  2. Second, we must be willing to address the root causes of problems, not simply treat the symptoms.
  3. Third, we have to work in concert with other organizations to ensure our collective efforts are moving toward a common goal rather than against one another.
  4. Finally, as stewards of the community, we have to keep the community’s interests in mind; we must be unapologetic advocates.

Prior to now, I’ve never considered myself a public health professional. But by acting on behalf of the public’s health, I discovered I am.

Watch the TEDx video to see what’s possible when we look at food insecurity as a public health concern rather than an individual problem.