October 31, 2014

World Food Prize participants talk about food insecurity

World Food Prize attendees are being warned that the problem of hunger is likely to worsen before it improves. Officials with relief agencies say food and nutrition programs will be cut as Congress works to reduce the national debt.

 Last year, a record number of households in the U.S. reported food insecurity, meaning their meals were either irregular or inadequate. Joel Olah, executive director of Aging Resources of Iowa, says if Congress cuts funding for food stamps or Meals on Wheels the problem will grow.

“What we’re concerned about is just slashing randomly. I think the programs need to be valued by the results that they produce. These programs sustain people in their own homes,” Olah said. “As a society, we have to make a choice. What do we value?” Olah says food insecurity presents distinct problems for older Iowans because poor nutrition can reduce the effectiveness of many medications.

“When you don’t eat well or hydrate well, it affects the ability of the drugs you’re taking to work effectively. They can overstimulate the body or under-stimulate it, both of which result in injuries, falls and bad health,” Olah said. State officials estimate more than 100,000 Iowa households are food insecure.

Worldwide, hunger is considered the number one health risk – killing more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Food supply organizations see a link between those who are underfed and overfed, noting there are a billion people who are hungry in the world and another billion who are obese.

Ellen Gustafson is the founder and Executive Director of the 30 Project, a nonprofit organization working to reform the food system. She says the mass production of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton has increased access to inexpensive processed foods while reducing access to fresh produce.

“If you go into areas considered to be food deserts, you can’t find a pound of bananas. If you do find a pound of bananas, they are the last ones dropped off….brown and overripe, not like the high quality banana we find at the grocery store,” Gustafson said. Gustafson believes if Americans begin to demand more fresh fruits and vegetables, the production chain will evolve, reducing prices and improving access.

She says that will in turn result in better health for both the hungry and the obese. This is the 25th anniversary of the World Food Prize, a Des Moines-based award which recognizes individuals for their efforts to fight worldwide hunger.