Last year the number of US households struggling to put food on the table rose from 13 million households to 17 million. That is 14.6 percent of households in the richest country of the world.
Poverty lies behind these figures, and it is worsening at the bottom of the social ladder. Those households in which some members endured lower food intake or had their eating patterns disrupted increased from 4.7m in 2007 to 6.7m last year.
These are the worst figures since the annual USDA Household Food Security report began in 1995.
The recession is undoubtedly to blame for the recent sharp increase in food insecurity, but even before the financial meltdown the numbers were unacceptably high. A country that has enjoyed years of high economic growth should not have over one in ten households struggling to put food on the table.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said hunger is a problem that the American sense of fairness should not tolerate and that American ingenuity can overcome.
Government has a major role to play here and Vilsack outlined how improved access to federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a political priority.
But it should not be the responsibility of government alone to solve the hunger problem in the US. It would make a lot of sense for food companies to play a more active role.
The industry has already done a lot to cut the cost of our groceries by improving efficiencies, innovating, and pushing down costs in the supply chain. As consumers we have never before enjoyed such a wide variety of food products at such low prices.
But an unacceptable number of people are still unable to enjoy the breadth of choice and lower prices. Here the industry can work with organizations such as Feeding America to really make a difference.
This group works with large corporate donors to secure food and grocery products on a national level and distribute them to local food banks. Corporate members of the Institute of Food Technologist are active supporters of this initiative.
In fact, IFT volunteers gave up their time to donate food at this year’s IFT trade event in Anaheim, California. Enterprising initiatives like this one are a good example of the sort of CSR activity that can really help alleviate hunger but a lot more could be done.
Food companies can use their expertise and distribution base to put together coordinated plans to win the battle against hunger.