Courtney is joined by Cami Haught (again!), WVU’s Registered Dietitian, to talk about the issue of food insecurity. Defined as a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life, Courtney and Cami talk about the issue here in West Virginia and where folks can go to learn more about the problem. And for more information on The Rack here at WVU, visit: https://studentengagement.wvu.edu/the-rack-student-food-pantry

Transcription: 

All right. Welcome everyone to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm the director over at well WVU here at West Virginia University. I am joined once again by our registered dietician Cami Haught. So hey Cami, how's it going? Good. How are you? Doing just fine. And of course by me, I, when I say join, really, we're recording this over zoom because we're still practicing social distancing.

And, um, so we're joined together. Virtually as opposed to physics. So it's sound good. Um, so like I said, Cami is a registered dietician. This is her second time being on the show, which is pretty good. Considering we've only been doing this for like a few months, so she's already a regular rate. I love it.

Awesome. Yeah. All right. So Cami, why don't you just remind everyone of your role here at the university? All right. Well, my role here is I'm a registered dietician and I work through WVU Dining Services. And my main role here on campus is providing nutrition education to students. And it is a free service.

And I emphasized three because once you are out working have insurance, it might be covered for nutritional counseling, or it might not. It really depends on your insurance plans. So. Take advantage of that. Why you are here? I can do nutritional counseling for pretty much anything. Um, you know, weight loss, healthy, eating, building muscle, whatever your goals are.

We can come up with a plan and with the pandemic, you're still meeting with students virtually. Is that correct? I am. Yes. I'm just reach out, you know, via email and we can schedule a zoom, you know, meeting and I can still help you meet your nutritional goals, which is pretty rare. So yeah, it is when we're actually physically on campus, your, uh, offices in the basement of the towers.

Correct? It is I'm in Bennett tower. All right. So right on the Evansdale campus, well, uh, Cami we're here today because we're going to talk about an issue called food insecurity. Uh, and so to preface this episode, we just want to give credit to the organization where we found a lot of our information that we'll be talking about today.

The organization is Feeding America. Um, they're the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization. And if you're interested in learning more about them, uh, you can visit their website, which is just feeding america.org. Uh, and so when we talk about food insecurity, what feeding America describes it as it's a, household's inability to provide enough.

Food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Um, so here in the United States, uh, approximately one in nine people struggle with food insecurity. That's about 11% of the population or roughly 14.3 million people. So that is a large chunk of folks who do not have access to nutritious foods. Um, so it is one way.

That we can measure and assess the risk of hunger, but just because, um, but I think it's important to remember that adult hunger and food insecurity are distinct things. So Cami, why don't you talk a little bit about that? They are very distinct. Um, but food insecurity is an indicator of hunger. So when we think about hunger, a lot of us might think about that physical sensation or discomfort, maybe a headache, or you get hungry as is on the Snickers commercials or, you know, irritable.

It's that physical sensation where food insecurity. More is the lack of the available financial resources for food at that household level. Right. And it is like a really complex problems. So it is it's closely related to poverty, but it's important to note that not all people who live below the poverty line for income experience, food insecurity, and there are lots of people who live above the poverty line, who can.

Experience it, we also need to take into account the social determinants of health, which I w we touched on last week in our episode, we're talking about racism as a public health issue. Um, but the social determinants of health as defined by healthy people, 2020 are the conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play worship, and age that affect a wide range of health.

Functioning and quality of life outcomes and risks. So included in that would be things like access to affordable housing. Um, are folks socially isolated from other people? Uh, do they have chronic or acute health problems? Do they have high medical costs and are, do they have low wages? So all of those issues sort of compound and feed into, um, the food insecurity issue.

Transportation and there's well, Oh, I was just thinking about, because that is a huge problem. If you don't have the means to get to the grocery store, it's very difficult to carry enough groceries when you're riding the bus or. PRT or something along those lines to be able to get that back home. That's true.

And you know, we're going to talk a little bit later about food deserts, but if you live in an area where there are any grocery stores that carry, you know, those fresh, nutritious foods, you're going to have to travel quite a distance to product that. And if you don't have reliable transportation, I mean, how's that going to happen?

Yeah, it makes it very difficult. I hear that with a lot of students, sometimes that they just don't have transportation and it's hard to carry enough on the bus or trying to find a way to get them to the grocery store sometimes can be an issue. Right. Cause even, you know, taking a taxi or an Uber, like that's expensive.

Yeah, they're very sensitive. So that's another definitely a good point to bring up. Um, so feeding America just has like, I guess, different levels of food insecurity is no. Do you want to start off with talking about the, the top two levels? Sure. And so when you're thinking about this hierarchy here, think of it as like a.

Triangle. Um, yeah, at the very top, you have your high food security and these are households that have no problem about getting adequate food. That second level is going to be marginal food security and these households, they might have had some problems at times about accessing adequate food. But for the most part, you know, their ability was not substantially reduced.

the third level. You know, you, you look out it's a low food security household and they do have reduced quality variety of their diets, but the quantity of food intake and normal eating patterns were not disrupted very much. So they were still able to access some foods, but it might not be the quality or variety, like fresh fruits or vegetables that we would recommend.

Right. Um, the lowest level is very low food security at times during the year, um, eating patterns of one or more household members are going to be disrupted and food intake is going to be reduced. And I was think of the moms in that situation, because if they do have children, the moms are the ones who are usually going to go without food, so they can make sure that their children have enough to sustain them.

Right. And it's, you know, it's interesting to think. I'm not interesting and sad to think about how many college students might be struggling with food insecurity and the ways in which it is discovered. I remember specifically a story from a professor who, uh, I believe. I don't think it was a nutrition class, but I think it was like an exercise physiology class, but one of the assignments was to have the students, uh, create a food diary of all the food that they ate for the week.

And a student turned in their assignment and they had only eaten yogurt the entire week. And so the professor contacted with them because they thought that perhaps the student was struggling with kind of disordered eating patterns or things like that. And the students said, no, that was all I could afford.

Yeah, sweet was the yogurt. Uh, and so it's, it's heartbreaking, uh, to learn to know, and for those students who aren't aware of the resources that are available, and we'll talk about those a little bit quickly. Well, definitely. Cause I, I also have seen some students who had food insecurity issues and, you know, just trying to help them.

Like the resources we're going to talk about later, but yeah. Trying to get them hooked up with some people that can help. Uh, so another thing that feeding America does is they have a project called map the meal gap, uh, and it's a study that helps improve the understanding of food insecurity and food costs at more of a local level.

So this is actually not just broken down by state, but also by County, uh, per state, which is. Pretty rad. Uh, and so their most recent data is from 2018, but they also have projected pandemic related food insecurity rates as well. So here in West Virginia, in 2018, our food insecurity rate was at 13.9%, which if you think about the national rate of 11.1%, we are a bit higher.

Um, and so that's approximately 250,600 people right here in West Virginia. And so according to their data, 31% of those folks were above, um, snap or other nutrition programs, threshold, which is 200% of income above the poverty rate. So snap, in case you don't, for those who don't know, I'm sure Cammie knows, but a supplemental nutrition assistance program.

So it's, that's a government program that helps people buy nutritious food. Um, so 31% of those people were above those snap guidelines. But 69% of the people did qualify for snap rather than nutrition programs. And they also look, this project looks at the annual budget shortfalls for every state when it comes to their food budget, our annual food budget shortfall here in West Virginia is $114,692,000.

That is crazy. Yes, that is that's an obscene amount of money. Um, And in terms of counties, McDowell County, which is in Southern West, Virginia does have the highest food insecurity rate, which was at 22.5% in 2018. And I think what's important to know is. It's estimated to be at 27.5% here in 2020, partly in response to, uh, the COVID-19 pandemic.

So COVID-19 has really shed a light on, on this issue, not just for children, but for households across the state and across the nation. Um, So, so yeah, so that's, you can actually visit a feeding America's website, find that project and you can actually take a look at the data in. Your home County or your home state, if you're not from West Virginia, um, and take a look at the different food insecurity rates.

Um, but we also have, we've mentioned this earlier, but let's talk for a minute about food deserts. So me, what are food deserts? And how are they related to food insecurity? So a food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. In contrast to an area that's going to have more access to supermarkets or fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, um, You know, I always think of that almost where I live here in barista mills, West Virginia, because we do not have a supermarket in our little town.

Oh, I have to travel to Morgan town or Kingwood. And for somebody who, again, doesn't have transportation. Right. That's an issue. I mean, you can go to the dollar store and get some milk and chips, but you're not gonna find any fresh fruits, vegetables there's along those lines. It's going to relate to that food insecurity again, because you've got limited access.

You're not able to get those healthy, nutritious foods that, you know, of course, I'm going to recommend that you get, so, yeah, it's, um, you know, and these food deserts can occur anywhere. It can be in a highly populated area, rural area, like where I live. And so, I mean, communities are trying to come up with some different solutions to help combat that.

You know, they've got mobile groceries, um, CSA and that's, um, community supported agriculture, um, different zoning for urban agriculture. So maybe using some abandoned, lots and cities to try to have some gardening where you could grow some fresh vegetables. And also some, um, doctors are doing vegetable and fruit prescriptions.

So to try to help people be able to afford some of these foods. It's. Um, a couple of years ago I went on an alternative break and we did, uh, food insecurity was our social issue that we worked on during that time. And we worked at three different organizations, but one of the ones we worked at was actually an urban farm.

And it's, it's incredible how in an innovative those folks are, because, I mean, they'll find a small patch of land and they'll. Really work it to its best advantage. Um, and like be able to provide a, a large amount of fresh food for the community. And they do outreach. I mean, not just like in a farmer's market, but hosting dinners where anyone's invited and they can, you know, use the food that they've grown at the farm.

And it's just phenomenal. Um, It's really cool. So if you're interested in, in that kind of thing, I recommend you look into urban farming and see if it's something that you want to get involved in. Uh, and so if folks want to learn more about this particular issue, uh, one of the easiest ways is actually there's a documentary on Netflix and it's called a place at the table and it's been out for several years at this time.

Point a, but it really looks at the issue of food insecurity, a lot of different ways. Um, and it, you know, it, it looks at folks who are trying to work themselves out of the system. It's looking at folks who are helping their communities, uh, but it's on Netflix. So if you haven't had flex subscription, it's free, uh, which is really great.

And then Johns Hopkins University just released actually, I believe in late 2019, a book called food insecurity on campus. So I'm sure cam is going to run out and buy it right now in her office. It would be a good resource to have. Yes, we can go have these on it, but also there are resources here on campus.

So obviously Cammie is a resource. I am, I can definitely try to help get you in the right direction. Sometimes it just takes a couple of people thinking about it, a problem to come up with a solution and also the rack on campus. They have two locations. And they are such a wonderful resource for students to help it's, um, a food pantry set up and they have fresh food Mondays during the summer, they do cook out boxes for like the 4th of July.

So it's definitely a resource to help these students out who might be living with some food insecurity right now. Yeah. And the rack doesn't just provide, you know, food that folks can take away. They also do, um, like meal swipes so that if students need, um, a swipe into the dining hall, which right now the dining halls are not open.

Yes. Fingers crossed. Yes, they will. But if folks need a meal swipe, that's another place where they can go. Uh, so there are places on campus that can help you. If you are, you know, have food insecurity and need access to fresh nutritious foods. There are, there are places you can go. You're at WVU. Um, so our wellbeing snapshot, we kind of already mentioned this, but just talking maybe a little bit about how the pandemic has had made it apparent that food insecurity was such a widespread issue when schools shut down and the biggest problem was figuring out how students were going to eat.

And I think. The schools have done an amazing job of doing the, to go boxes and passing out for the students. I know here in Preston County. They are. I forget how many thousands of meals they are preparing each week and then delivering on Wednesday. And I think that's such a blessing because these children rely on those meals for breakfast and lunch during the day.

And now a lot of schools also have the backpack program or a little pantry set up at the school to help these students get through the weekend. And it really does. Open your eyes to how big of an issue this is. Yeah, so hopefully, I mean, not a lot of good things have come out of this pandemic, but any lights on, on some inequities that already exist, hopefully will allow not just communities, but lawmakers and governments and all that kind of stuff.

Work towards long-term sustainable solutions. So hopefully that, that could be a positive change from, and I always tell people to get involved because if this is an area that you have passion. You know, you can always volunteer at the schools to prepare meals. They have food pantries in your counties. You know, there's always ways that you can get involved to help the situation and try to make it better.

Yes. Or the Meals on Wheels program. They're always looking for volunteers here. You're seeing your centers. I mean, that's another area for food insecurity with a lot of your elderly population and. So there's a lot of great resources out there. Yes. Um, so if, if you're here on campus, you can actually check out the center for service and learning.

They always have UpToDate lists of volunteer opportunities. And, um, they'll definitely have some options for folks who want to get involved. Well, thank you so much Cami for joining me today, always. Oh, I love chatting with you. Thank you for having me. Yes, it's got enough. I'm my guess is that you're going to be back here sooner than that, and I'm good with that.

All right. Y'all well, thank you all so much for tuning in and we'll catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays.