Food insecurity often gets misunderstood in the context of hunger, malnutrition, famine or stunted growth. While there are biological and physiological overlaps in all these phenomena, food insecurity remains mutually non-exclusive and distinct. Food Insecurity is defined as the limited or unreliable access to foods that are safe and nutritionally adequate. Around a quarter of all people worldwide -- some two billion people -- meet this definition.
Malnutrition is a condition caused by not getting enough calories or the right amount of key nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that are needed for physical and mental health. Malnutrition may occur when there is a lack of nutrients in the diet or, additionally, when the body cannot absorb nutrients from food. For example, some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, may induce a state of malnutrition on previously healthy individuals.
Food loss refers to food that is lost at various points during the supply chain. Roughly 40% of food is lost in the supply chain, according to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. While poor harvest seasons and unpredictable weather patterns have historically been the primary cause for food loss, rapid rises in food production during the past few decades have changed food loss dynamics, resulting in wastage at all stages of the food supply chain.
SDG #2: Zero Hunger
The Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all". The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. While the SDGs are not legally binding, all 193 governments who endorsed them are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals. SDG #2: Zero Hunger strives to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
There is a global food surplus for the first time in human history. With today’s technology and agricultural growth, we are capable of adequately feeding up to 10 billion people, yet 690 million people are undernourished and food insecure. This situation can be described as an example of an “artificial scarcity,” which is a social-economic condition where there is a deficit in said resource amongst the general population despite the presence of enough resources through adequate production.
Supply & Demand Chain
The supply and demand chain refers to the process of growing food from the farm to its consumption by consumers in its totality. In other words, it is how food supply -- from production, transportation, to presentation -- and food demand -- dietary requirements, affordability, and access -- interact with each other. Breaking down the two major components into subcomponents allows for targeted action to increase efficiency, affordability, and output within a given geography. Moreover, it allows for a more direct response to resolving issues such as food wastage, over and under supply, and access to distribution.
Systemic Challenges/Charitable Impacts
A systemic problem is a problem which is a consequence of issues inherent in the overall system, rather than due to a specific, individual, isolated factor. This rubric applies to food insecurity because despite there being enough food for all humans, millions remain food insecure, making it clear that equitable systems of redistribution and access are not ingrained in global food systems. Non-profit organisations such as Million Meals Mission can, in no way, reverse global inequalities or systemic deficiencies. However, our charitable donations to grassroots partners in countries worldwide allow us to ensure that we do our part in plugging structural socio-economic gaps that leave billions of people vulnerable to food insecurity.
Hunger refers to the consequence of food insecurity that, because of a prolonged, involuntary lack of food, due to lack of economic resources, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation of “feeling hungry.” Therefore, food insecurity tends to be a precursor to hunger, and is usually exacerbated by physical, environmental and medical conditions.
This term refers to the bio-physiological state of impaired growth and under-development that children undergo as a result of poor nutrition. Other factors such as infections, disease, and poor environmental conditions only add to, and compound, stunted growth. Stunted growth occurs if a child’s height is more than two standard deviations below the WHO’s Child Growth Standards median for their age. Stunted growth is one of the most serious consequences of inadequate nutrition intake for children, affecting roughly 150 million children.
Food waste refers to food that is wasted during and after the consumer stage of the food production. After food is processed, any undesirable produce, excess meals, and expired food that is thrown away constitutes food waste. Poor planning, excess purchases, and a lack of a social taboo on food waste are significant contributors to this issue. Food waste occurs within households, retail businesses, and restaurants, among others.
The Lottery of Location
The lottery of location, as it pertains to Million Meals Mission, builds upon the concept of purchasing power parity. A donor’s geographical location, and the currency they use, may potentially have a far greater value when converted to relatively weaker currencies, thereby increasing a donor’s impact depending on the location they are donating from. For instance, the price of a standard McDonald’s Big Mac is roughly $5, or one meal. However, those $5, if donated to an organization working in India -- where the currency is weaker and purchasing power parity is lower -- generates enough value to purchase almost 30 meals. Therefore, a donor in richer countries has the potential to create much more impact globally simply due to their lottery of location.
Ugly produce is a phenomenon seen primarily by supermarkets, grocery stores, and markets, who choose to discard perfectly edible food items that may not be considered aesthetically pleasing. Completely edible food with only minute blemishes (a dark spot on a pear or a misshapen zucchini), fit and healthy for human consumption, are not displayed because they may dissuade potential customers from purchasing the item. This creates rampant food waste as nutritious, edible food is thrown away in the fear of reducing sales and profit.
Food Waste Accountability
Currently, there is no discourse or debate on who is accountable for food wastage. Depending on who you ask, the onus on reducing food waste lies with producers, consumers, or institutions (cafeterias, restaurants, cafes, etc). While all these actors hold varying levels of accountability depending on their context, there has been no system of accountability that quantifies the degrees to which each actor is responsible for food waste in a given supply and demand chain. Should such a system be in place (either for a county, state, country, or even institution), targeted action can be taken throughout each step of the supply and demand chain to demand specific responses that will consequently reduce food wastage.
Food deserts are geographies where people have limited access to healthful and affordable food, either because of low income, poor public transportation systems, sparse populations, or having few retailers that provide fresh produce at affordable prices. People living in food deserts often resort to unhealthy food options for sustenance (such as fast food or processed food), which increases the likelihood of food insecurity and health issues.