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Center for a Livable Future


Community Food Security in United States Cities: A Survey of the Relevant Scientific Literature

Stephen A. Haering, Shamsuzzoha B. Syed
White paper, 2009

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Hamm and Bellows define community food security as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance, social justice, and democratic decision-making” (Hamm & Bellows, 2003).

Community food security, as defined above, is a fundamental component of assuring that appropriate conditions are in place to enable people and communities to enjoy health and well-being. Threats to community food security may be dramatic, as demonstrated internationally by the continued suffering from malnutrition by Sudanese children (Gettleman, 2007) and domestically by the 56 percent of Houston Astrodome shelter residents who went without adequate food in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (Brodie, Weltzien, Altman, Blendon & Benson, 2006). Thus food availability becomes a matter of immediate life and death in such circumstances, and significant national and global resources are dedicated to emergency relief efforts.

But food availability is only one aspect of food security. Lee and Greif review four core dimensions of food insecurity: consumption level pertains to the number of meals eaten per day, the amount being eaten, and the degree of regularity of meals; quality refers to both the nutritional aspects of food and personal, subjective preferences; sources indicates both the foundations from which foods are supplied and the personal and cultural acceptance of the sources; and cost dimension is central to fully considering components that compose food security / insecurity (B. A. Lee & Greif, 2008). Thus, in many  communities, the threats to community food security are subtle. Members of such communities may have access to adequate, or even excessive, caloric intake, but the food environment is still insecure: The available foods are of  limited to absent nutritional value; the method of food attainment may be culturally unacceptable (e.g., foods may be acquired only by means that do not support the  dignity of individuals and families); healthy foods may be available but financially inaccessible; the food system may be unsustainable, hegemonic, or environmentally hazardous. These scenarios are realities among vulnerable populations in the United States and likely contribute to the growing nutritional and associated health disparities among races / ethnicities and socioeconomic groups.

Related Links

CLF Affiliates Publish First Systematic Review of Food Security Literature
CLF Announcement