TAYLOR KING: Well, hello and welcome to Unwritten. I'm Taylor King, a student at North Carolina A and T studying business administration. And today we're exploring food insecurity and its impacts with nutrition professor, podcast host, and Pearson author Joan Salge-Blake of Boston University. So lucky to have you here, Dr. Blake. So without further ado, please take it away with your hot take surrounding food insecurity.
DR. JOAN SALGE-BLAKE: Oh, yes. Thank you Taylor for inviting me to come on. I'm so excited to talk about this because this is such an important topic. You know, it's estimated that in 2020, one in eight Americans were food insecure. And when you say that, one in eight, but this visual came to me in my own neighborhood. And I was taking a walk one Tuesday and I was just taking around my neighborhood, and I came to the church at the end of my block. And it's a Tuesday. The front door of the church was locked. The pews were empty, yet there was a line of cars in the parking lot, snaked all the way through the parking lot and around the corner. And I'm like, [SILENT].
And then it dawned on me. Oh, my goodness. They were waiting in line in their cars to get a bag of groceries from the food pantry which was in the rear of the church. And at that moment, I realized, oh, my goodness gracious, my neighbors could be hungry.
TAYLOR: Thank you so much, Dr. Blake. I really appreciate that perspective. So really starting with the basics here. In nutrition, how is food insecurity defined? What are the contributing factors? And why is it important to study?
DR. BLAKE: Right. Well, it's defined as really the inability to satisfy basic food and nutrition needs due to a lack of financial resources or other problems. And we know that a diet that is chronically deficient in nutrient and calories can be robbing the body of nutrients and energy that the entire body needs-- from your brain health to your heart to your bones. So it's very, very important that you are nutritionally feeding your body.
And those that are chronically food insecure have the reverse, which is very, very anxious. And it's interesting because people think that they can see food insecurity with 20/20 vision, and not necessarily because food insecurity could mean that the person could be not necessarily underweight but could be actually overweight. And you say food insecure and overweight, they don't go together. But, yes, they do. Because when you're on a tight food budget and are financially insecure, you end up being food insecure. But what you do with the limited food budget that you have is you end up buying very inexpensive, cheap foods, like sweets and treats and savory snacks. Why? Because you want to feed your belly. Of course, you don't like being hungry. And who wants to be hungry all the time?
But unfortunately, you may be warding off hunger by feeding your belly, but you're not feeding your body good nutrition. And that's what a lot of folks that are food insecure may actually be overweight or obese and at the same time being malnourished. And so, again, it's not just calories that we're looking at. We're looking at healthy calories.
And once you have the-- there's a pecking order in your monthly budget. You have to pay for shelter. You have to pay for utilities, gas, and heat. And then as it goes down, usually, food is at the end of the pecking order of what bills have to be paid.
So if your financial problems and-- you're maybe employed but you're underemployed and that you're not making enough money, you may not have enough money for good food at the end of the month after you pay all your bills. The problem with that scenario of filling up your belly just so you ward off hunger but you're filling it up with a lot of sweets and treats, we know that a diet that is unhealthy, one that has a lot of added sugars to it, increases the risk of not only being overweight but heart disease and diabetes and other long-term chronic diseases.
So food insecurity is such a problem among so many people as they really can't get adequate and nutritious foods on their plate on a regular basis.
TAYLOR: Exactly. Yeah, really good points there. Thank you. And so going off of that, who would you say is impacted by food security and why should that really be of concern?
DR. BLAKE: Yeah. Food insecurity doesn't discriminate. OK, anybody can be food insecure. When I started this whole webinar with my neighborhood, it was during tough times during the pandemic, I saw cars at my local church food pantry. So it doesn't really necessarily discriminate. It could be the times, and we saw that when people were being laid off during the pandemic or couldn't work the full times that they could.
So it really could go across all economic/social demographics. However, mostly it's for people that are unemployed or underemployed, where they-- it's not that they're not working. But they may be working one, two, or three jobs, but they're all not making great salaries. So even though they're working really hard, they still don't have enough money to cover their finances and, most importantly, to cover a healthy nutrition diet.
As I just mentioned before, when the going gets tough, sometimes the food budget gets a real, real shock and doesn't get met. There's not enough finances around to meet a family's needs.
TAYLOR: Exactly. That is so understandable. And I kind of think of it from a student perspective just knowing-- a lot of us don't always have a lot of money in the bank. And I'm sure that we both know that pursuing an education certainly presents its challenges, but those can really be amplified when someone's lacking that stable source of food and nutrition. So totally something to think about. What are some solutions, whether large or small, that people can take to really address food insecurity?
DR. BLAKE: Right. Well, on campuses, we have to help those students. And one of the best things you can do is-- I started this whole discussion that there was a food pantry in my town. Well, there should be a food pantry on every campus. And if they would have that so people could, the students could come in and out and grab food, whether it's just a meal or a whole day's worth of food, so that when they were on campus they could feed their body, feed their brain to help in their learning capacity.
And besides a food pantry, you can also work with the dining halls. And we had a little discussion before we were taping and you had mentioned something that you were implementing at your college. So why don't you tell us what you're doing?
TAYLOR: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Andy has this awesome program where students can go in and donate their leftover meal swipes that they didn't get to use throughout the week or that they didn't need. And then there's a really easy form for students they need to fill out so that they can get some extra meal swipes at the caf every week.
So it's really just a small go into your app, press Donate, whatever swipes you have left, and it's really an easy way to help out your peers. And it's really special because you know who it's going to. You know that it's going to other students.
DR. BLAKE: Right. And I mean that's brilliant. Here at Boston University, we have a similar program. We call it Swipe It Forward. So that this way-- because that is-- the foods in the cafeteria are very nutritious. And if you're not gonna be using all of your points or your meal allocation, swipe it forward, pay it forward, do whatever. But it really could help your neighbor really that maybe you might not know has some food insecurity problem.
So those are some great solutions. And I think that all campuses should dig deep and figure out a way to assess if there's a problem on the campus, which most likely it is, and how they can address it.
TAYLOR: So moving on to my last question for you, Dr. Blake. Sometimes it's the most important information that we're not being told or that isn't readily accessible but that is so important. So what's something that we haven't discussed today but as important in ongoing conversations about food insecurity?
DR. BLAKE: Taylor, what you just said was spot on. Because what you said is sometimes being a college student, you don't have a lot of money in the bank. And this statistic is going to-- I'm glad you're sitting down because when you hear the statistic, it's gonna really shock you.
Research suggests that about 14% up to 60% of students on college campuses report being food insecure at some time, at some point in their college career. 14% up to 60%-- that is unbelievable. And that's a secret that a lot of people don't realize. They think that if someone's enrolled in school that they obviously can afford the tuition and all the resources that they need around them. But that's not necessarily true.
And it may be that the fact is after they pay the tuition and the housing and the resources they need that they don't have enough money left over to buy adequate amount of food. Some of them are working part time so they can pay the tuition bill, but still there's not a lot of food money left over. And this is a very, very critical time when students are going to college to improve their cognitive thinking, to learn, and to be able to critically think and apply what they're learning. But let me tell you. Your brain-- your brain needs good fuel. And then when I'm talking about good fuel, I mean good, nutritious food and calories. You need to feed your brain so that your body can do its job and also absorb all the wonderful information that you're trying to get at college.
So now you're in college-- think about the scenario. You're in college. You're trying to learn. You're food insecure. You're skipping meals. You're not feeding your brains, and your body is basically running on reserves. So it's really not optimally, are you feeding your brain for it to learn? The best analogy I can make for that is-- I'm here in Boston. You said I was at Boston University. It's like saying to myself, OK, I'm gonna drive from Boston to New York City. But I get into my car and I look at the fuel tank, and it's on reserves. Well, let me tell you. I'm not gonna get very far in my trip from Boston to New York, and, more importantly, it's gonna be a very stressful trip.
And again, when you are food insecure and you can't get enough food to feed yourself, that is such anxiety that is also gonna affect your cognitive learning capacity. So it is so, so important that we address this issue that there are many, many college students that are food insecure during the time when they are trying to learn.
TAYLOR: Right. Exactly. Wow, that is such a great message to students everywhere. Well, thank you so, so much Dr. Blake for lending me your expertise today. I so appreciate your time. And I'm hopeful that this conversation will really serve as a catalyst for efforts to battle food insecurity in our respective communities.
So with that, everyone out there who's watching, continue to learn about important topics such as these. And we wish you a great rest of the day.