Food Insecurity in Houston's East End
By Jorge Olvera
Did you know someone on your block has gone hungry in the last year?
Does it surprise you?
Food Insecurity is a serious problem in many parts of Harris County, but it often is a larger problem in neighborhoods with low household incomes such as the East End. According to the USDA, food insecurity means that “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” In Harris County, this number is 16.6% percent of the population. That means that 1 in every 6 households on your block has been food insecure at least once in the past year. But its effects are not always visible.
So what does food insecurity look like? A person who is food insecure may not seem malnourished and skinny. Being food insecure does not mean you’re homeless and hungry. Families who are food insecure often have jobs, they have a home, and their children are probably in the same class as your children. These families, however, often have to make a decision whether to buy good quality, nutritious food, or pay rent. They may also have to choose between buying food that is healthy, or paying for their medicine or medical bills. These are very tough choices that they may have to make. For families who are food insecure, buying a $5 pizza that can feed the entire family might be the only choice they have. So a food insecure person could actually be obese or overweight. And when these choices are made, other health problems could also arise. According to a report by a food insecurity group in Houston:
“Children living with food insecurity are more likely to have asthma, iron-deficiency anemia, behavioral disorders, and cognitive impairment. Pregnant women also are at greater risk for iron-deficiency anemia as well as excess weight gain, anxiety, and depression. Pregnant women are also more likely to birth smaller, sicker infants. Adults impacted by food insecurity are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, and report more mental health problems. Food insecure seniors are less likely to live independently as they age.”
Have you ever thought to yourself why our neighborhoods are targeted by fast food chains rather than healthy restaurants? Unhealthy food is cheap; and often times, people do not have a choice. Take a ride down Harrisburg and you can count the healthy options with one hand.
In some families, the meals that the kids receive at school might be the only meals that they eat all day. Thankfully, there are strategies to fight Food Insecurity and hunger in our neighborhood. For example, Gallegos Elementary has partnered with Brighter Bites, who sends kids home from school with fresh fruits and vegetables. Franklin Elementary has partnered with the Houston Food Bank through their Backpack Buddy program, providing nutritious, child-friendly foods for kids to take home over the weekend. At El Centro de Corazon, the Federally Qualified Health Center I work at, we provide free fruits and vegetable prescriptions to the local farmers market as an incentive for kids to come see our registered dietician.
“Why are our neighborhoods targeted by fast food chains, rather than healthy restaurants?”
As cliche as it is, this is where I tell you about how if you give a man a fish you can feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. When it comes to food insecurity, there is truth to that. Gardening and growing your own foods is actually not that hard, and a cool way to subsidize food when times are tough. A great strategy for addressing food insecurity is to provide community members a safe space to grow their own food. Community gardens increase access to healthy foods, improve nutrition and exercise, and improve consumption of fruits and vegetables. Gardens also build a sense of community and promote safer neighborhoods.
So think about what food insecurity is, and what that it might mean to your own neighbors. There’s a likelihood that someone within your own block may be food insecure, and you may never know it.
If you’d like to help revive the Magnolia Multi Service Center Community Garden, join us for our first Garden Work Day on Saturday, October 13 from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.!
Find more info at eastendblockparty.org/garden