More than 38 million people in the U.S. were considered food insecure in 2020, relying on food pantries and community-based programs to stave off hunger. Hunger and food insecurity have dire economic consequences. For instance, young children who experience food insecurity tend to be less prepared for school, with lifelong impacts on earnings and health.
Experts define food insecurity as limited availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, or other coping strategies).
The New York Fed is focusing on interventions that can reduce barriers to economic mobility for low-and moderate-income people, with a focus on the economic drivers of health, household financial well-being, and climate-related risk. As part of this effort, the New York Fed on November 30 will host “Combating Food Insecurity: What’s Working — and What’s Scalable,” a public event focused on these issues.
Ahead of the event, we convened leaders focused on addressing the social issue of hunger, with the goal of identifying both challenges and market-based interventions to make healthy and affordable food accessible to all. Here are four ideas that surfaced in our conversations:
- Maintaining dignity; respecting cultural and religious norms: Michael Muzyk, president and CEO of restaurant supplier Baldor Foods, said school-aged children don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, but age-appropriate outreach and nutritional education can help food suppliers cater to children’s preferences, leading to less food waste. Meanwhile, Michael Servello, president and CEO of Compassion Coalition, a nonprofit that partners with grocers to buy food and then distribute to households in need through a discount store, pointed out that those seeking food assistance must be able to maintain their dignity. “We distributed over 50,000 food boxes during COVID,” Servello said. “What we found in Central New York and the Capitol Region was the majority of refugees we dealt with did not accept the free food but preferred to purchase their own.”
- Reducing food waste: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30–40 percent of all food produced in the United States goes to waste each year, and most of that waste occurs at home. Two innovative companies — Olio and Copia — are addressing this issue. London-based Olio created an application to enable people to connect with neighbors to give away food rather than discard it. In September, the company announced that it had raised $43 million in funding from investors for a planned international expansion. Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Copia helps divert excess food from commercial kitchens to nonprofits, tracking the amount of food donated and providing documentation for tax purposes. And at the governmental level, the new Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law in New York State requires businesses and institutions generating an annual average of two or more tons of wasted food per week to donate excess edible food.
- Equitable franchise models: Everytable, a new social enterprise start-up, prepares food at a central kitchen to create economies of scale, then distributes to its stores, pricing its food to reflect neighborhood income. Prices of food items range from $3 to $5 in low-income neighborhoods and $5 to $8 in wealthier neighborhoods. Clare Fox, vice president of strategic partnerships at Everytable, said their model is not a subsidy model. “In fact, stores in food desert areas are some of the most profitable,” she said, noting high demand for healthy, lower-cost food options in underserved communities. Everytable also offers training to community members interested in becoming franchisees and offers access to affordable capital.
- Aligning capital to sustainability goals: As part of a coalition of companies and nonprofits addressing food waste, Rabobank underwrites sustainability-linked loans that reward reductions in food waste with lower interest rates. The firm’s FoodBytes platform also connects food industry leaders and investors with startups working to curb food waste.
Join us on November 30 for a discussion of these and other solutions to food insecurity. See the event page to register.
This article was originally published by the New York Fed on Medium.
The views expressed in this article are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.