What Does Food Security Mean?
Food security refers to the availability of safe and nutritious food in quantities sufficient for everyone to meet their daily nutritional needs. Food security is only achieved when a variety of foods are available, affordable, and accessible.
Food security also includes the ability to overcome or circumvent any disruptions in the supply of food, since vulnerability to supply chain disruption means the availability of food is at risk.
Safeopedia Explains Food Security
The 1996 World Food Summit defined food security as occurring "when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”
Prevalence of Food Insecurity
Around 795 million people worldwide face hunger on a daily basis and over 2 billion people lack vital nutrients like zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin A, leading to lower life expectancy and a number of health issues. In 60 low- and middle-income countries, less than a third of infants meet the minimum dietary standards required for growth.
Access to food is also an issue in wealthier countries, due to factors like unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and purchasing power. For example, 12.8% of American households (approximately 17 million people) were considered food insecure in the United States in 2022, while an even greater number (17.3%) of households with children faced food insecurity.
The Four Dimensions of Food Security
Food security is multifaceted and can only take hold when the following conditions have been realized:
- Food is readily available - The supply side of food security depends on food production levels, the amount of food that has been stocked and stored, and how food is being traded (both commercially and between states and nations).
- Food is accessible to all - The availability of food does not translate to food security unless individuals, families, and households have reliable access to it. This requires income protection measures to ensure a baseline of purchasing power, affordable options in all areas, and no significant restrictions being placed on anyone acquiring the food they need.
- The available food is varied and balanced - Proper nutrition requires the intake of a number of nutrients found across a variety of categories of food. Food security, then, requires the availability of different types of food like grains, starches, meat, dairy, legumes, vegetables, eggs, and fruit so that every individual can provide themselves with a balanced diet and can avoid nutritional deficiencies.
- Access to food is stable and reliable - People or areas are considered food insecure if they are not able to acquire sufficient safe, quality food on a weekly or daily basis. Unreliable access can be caused by poverty, lack of public resources, economic inflation, political instability, or adverse growing conditions affecting the food supply.
Challenges to Food Security
Food waste is one factor that contributes to global hunger. While sufficient food is available to feed the global population, food waste makes that food far less accessible, with about one-third of food produced for consumption being disposed and discarded each year. This amounts to 1.3 billion tons of food, which could otherwise be used to feed 2 billion people.
Economic inflation is another challenge affecting food security, with domestic food price inflation remaining high around the world.
Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from March 2021 to March 2022 show that the price of food is increasing at a particularly high rate, climbing by 9.1% in a single year.
The phenomenon known as food deserts also has an impact on food security in the United States. These are urban areas where fresh, quality food is scarce and expensive compared to surrounding areas or other parts of the country.
Food desserts are characterized by lack of access to supermarkets or affordable grocery stores, meaning that residents rely primarily on corner stores with little or no fresh food and staple ingredients for their food supply.