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Opinion: How secure are you in your food?

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I learned a new term last week: food insecure.

A news release came across my desk while I was working on deadline and, in the back of my mind, thinking about my Thanksgiving travels and festivities with family.

The definition of this newfound phrase gave me sudden pause. It refers to a lack of consistent access to a nutritious, well-balanced diet. Here’s the kicker: The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week reported that more than 50 million Americans, including 17 million children, currently are food insecure.

Let that fact settle on us as we survey the smorgasbord on our family’s tables this week. It’s not my intention to put a damper on this season of Americana. But the facts are convicting.

In Missouri, food insecurity is a real problem for a staggering 15 percent of households, which ranks the Show Me State seventh in the nation, according to the USDA. The national food insecurity average is 13.5 percent.

A more detailed definition of the term includes a “limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Makes me think of begging, or even stealing.

According to the news release, sent by Ozarks Food Harvest, the last 14 years have been especially difficult on Missouri’s food security levels. The USDA report said that 366,000 Missouri households struggle with hunger.

Other sobering facts about Missouri in the USDA report:
• 6.4 percent in “very low food security,” indicating multiple instances of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake due to a lack of money and other resources for food; the national average is 5.2 percent, and Missouri ranks sixth.
• 3.4 percent increase in “very low food security” since 1994; the national growth rate was 1.5 percent, and Missouri’s was the third highest.
• 4.9 percent increase in “food insecurity” since 1994; the national growth rate was 2.2 percent, and Missouri was the fourth highest.

These USDA Economic Research Service stats should be painful to read, and I hope change the way we view our food.

A friend recently enlightened me with the idea that we either live to eat or eat to live. Seems if we ate for mere sustenance, there’d be more food to pass around.

I realize it’s difficult to put ourselves in these shoes. Ask yourself these questions:
• Have you ever worried that your household’s food would run out before you’d have money to buy more?
• Do you feel that you cannot afford to eat balanced meals?
• Have you reduced the size of your meal or skipped a meal in order to feed your child?
• Have you ever not eaten an entire day because you didn’t have money to buy food?

These are the shoes that 50 million Americans have walked in.

This Thanksgiving and beyond, enjoy time with family and loved ones, and let the food stay secondary. Better yet, find someone with whom to share your leftovers.

It might be your neighbor who needs them.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.
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