Finding ways to fight food insecurity

Sep 17, 2013

Volunteer at a community garden in Flint
Volunteer at a community garden in Flint
Credit Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Nearly two of every three people in Michigan suffer from “food insecurity”. A University of Michigan researcher says there are several reasons for that. Dorceta Taylor is a professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. She’s among those involved in a federal study of food insecurity around the state.

Taylor will talk about the issue of food insecurity Wednesday, September 18th, at 7:30 p.m. in Western Michigan University’s Sangren Hall. Her presentation is sponsored by WMU’s Office for Sustainability.

Taylor says being “food insecure” means not being able to get all of the food a person needs. She says that can be because of poverty, or because a person lives somewhere without easy access to stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables. That can include the situation some call a “food desert”. That’s an area that may only have liquor or convenience stores that typically sell highly processed food. Taylor says that’s a problem because many processed foods are high in calories, fat, and salt, and because they often cost more than fresh food at a grocery store.

Professor Dorceta Taylor
Professor Dorceta Taylor
Credit University of Michigan

Taylor says an estimated 59 percent of people in Michigan suffer from some form of food insecurity. The economic hit Michigan took in the wake of the 2008 recession and rising poverty rates have contributed to the problem.

Many cities around the country have seen renewed interest in “urban farming”. Taylor says that has some potential to help address the food insecurity issue. She says Growing Hope in Ypsilanti calculates that a backyard vegetable garden can trim about $180 from a family’s food bill each summer. Larger urban farming operations can produce significant amounts of food for their communities. But adding animals like chickens, cows, and pigs can create problems. Taylor says many cities have outdated regulations on farming that should be brought up to date.

Taylor and researchers at Lake Superior State University, Grand Valley State, and other schools are still in the first year of a five-year study of food insecurity in Michigan. The effort funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture includes studies in Holland and Benton Harbor. Taylor says they hope to learn more about the forces driving food insecurity in the state and what can be done about them. She says researchers also want to find out about barriers preventing food grown by Michigan farms from getting to its most vulnerable residents. Another area under investigation is the effectiveness of tax breaks in encouraging supermarkets to move into underserved areas.

Taylor says eliminating food insecurity will require a complex approach to the problem. But she also says there’s no reason why anyone, especially a child, goes to bed hungry in Michigan.