Despite all its convenience, contemporary life has myriad downsides, especially in undeveloped nations. Poverty, food insecurity, and freshwater access are among the most glaring social issues in modern times, with wide-reaching implications on our future health, and that of the planet.
The situation is a dire one, according to the United Nations. On its list of sustainable development goals, in fact, the UN placed “Zero Hunger” at the No. 2 spot. If we remain on the current trajectory in terms of global food insecurity, there could be upwards of 840 million people affected by hunger by 2030. Food insecurity is linked to numerous health problems, both physical and mental, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.
Like many modern social issues, food insecurity can be caused by numerous factors, and the landscape can look very different depending on location. Potential obstacles related to hunger include household income, disability status, and even availability of reliable transportation. The issue of food insecurity is further complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a volatile supply chain, and increasing global pollution levels that are harming crops and compromising water quality.
Although fighting food insecurity over the long term is a tall order, it’s far from impossible. Interestingly, viable solutions can be found in your own backyard. Let’s take a look at the many forms of localized action that may just help put a dent in the issue of global food security.
Local Action on a Global Scale
Examples of localized campaigns against food insecurity can be seen around the world. Interestingly, they span well beyond food pantries and similar traditional efforts. In Europe, for example, Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), including vertical farming, is growing in popularity. CEA fosters farm-to-table growing in urban environments and utilizes technological advancements to increase crop yield while using fewer resources.
Europe also leads the way when it comes to food waste, which is yet another component of the global hunger crisis. Across France, combating food waste has been a national priority since 2015, and strict regulations are in place. French grocery stores must donate unsold produce to food banks or similar charitable organizations instead of discarding it, or face a hefty fine.
It’s important to note that much of global food waste is actually edible, including the aforementioned discarded produce from supermarkets. Rather than throwing away only food that is past due or that has spoiled, it is common practice to also get so-called “ugly foods” off the shelves. The good news is, no matter where you live, local activists can use this wastefulness to your advantage, by diverting unsold produce from landfills to local food pantries, where it can be distributed to those in need.
Food Banks, the Supply Chain, and Beyond
Make no mistake: Community food distribution remains one of the easiest ways to fight food insecurity on a large scale, especially in the poorest communities. According to research, food insecurity is more prevalent in lower-income U.S. households, at a rate of about 2.5 times the national average. While income is a big part of the overall picture, residents of low-income neighborhoods often have additional barriers to contend with. The accessibility of fresh food is one of the most notable in this regard, as supermarkets are few and far between in many poor communities. What’s more, public transportation in the U.S. is notoriously unreliable, and in many cases, it can take hours to travel to and from the grocery store.
Recently, similar transportation problems have echoed across the supply chain, primarily driven by COVID-related complications. Protests at the Canadian border brought truck drivers to a literal halt in February, for example, and the concepts of “food miles” and urban agriculture are gaining attention in the call for solutions. Local food production and distribution can reduce food miles considerably, with the added benefit of minimal disruption during a short commute.
Regarding Water Quality in Your Community
The unfortunate reality is that poor communities are also at a disadvantage in regard to water quality. Municipal water may need to be boiled to ensure that it’s free from contaminants, but problems may persist in older homes with outdated plumbing. On a public health scale, the issue of water quality is just as important as that of fresh food access, and the two are inherently connected.
Water quality plays a crucial role in ensuring that agricultural crops are safe for human consumption, for starters. Even if you can access good quality water from your home’s taps, dangerous water-borne contaminants can make their way into crop fields, and subsequently your dinner table. Common health risks from poor-quality water include Hepatitis A and E. coli, the symptoms of which can be serious.
When it comes to the quality of the food we eat and the water we drink, it’s hard to predict the future changes that might be in store for humanity in the 21st century. As such, local action can make a big impact in the fight against food insecurity around the world. Municipal freshwater sources should be continuously monitored in an effort to detect contaminants, and we must continue to utilize technology to help create a more sustainable future.
[Photo courtesy: Kate Holt/AusAID]
Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer who lives in the Northwest region of the United States. She has a particular interest in covering topics related to politics, social justice, and workplace issues.