We are in the midst of a study to understand the issue of food (in)security among our members. Being part of a culture where “Have you eaten?” is an innocuous greeting among people, for our members, the pleasantry is a stark reminder of their paucity. Nonetheless, polite responses such as, “Oh yes I had something earlier, thank you” or “Not yet but later when I am hungry” would be likely answers. Many adapt to their challenges and eventually accept their circumstances as normal.
The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security determines that food security exists when “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” So, during a focus group discussion, participants were pensive when the statement was put forth to them. They also agreed that their community does not experience food security.
“Yes, there is lot of food provided by different groups, but it can be too much and also not enough,” shared a participant. This statement seemed perplexing at first, but participants explained that food distributions—in terms of when and how often they happened, what was distributed, and who received them— were unpredictable: some weeks they would receive a lot (too much, almost), other times they would not receive any (or not enough). This hampered their ability to plan their purchases and menus around what they may/may not receive.
One mother said she understands that dry rations are practical gifts as they are not perishable but then one will usually get too much of the same thing. To add on, another mother of young children shared that once her kids were happy to realize the food bundle included breakfast cereal, but then there was no milk. The dry rations came with ‘Santan’ (a brand of coconut milk), so she joked, “Maybe we are supposed to try a new recipe: cereal with Santan.”
To improve the situation, it was suggested that organisations provide supermarket vouchers so that families have some control over the type of groceries they need to supplement the rations that they received, and that food rations could include more fresh food, for example fruit, vegetables, and meat.
While meeting food needs is well intentioned, the effort could create unnecessary friction among neighbours. A participant who volunteers to distribute food in her neighbourhood, shared that donors choose who they want to give to, and she faces the brunt of those who feel that they have been left out unfairly. She has told herself that there is no way a charity can provide for everyone and so she has accepted the uncomfortable encounters as part and parcel of community service.
Alleviating the issue of food insecurity within neighbourhoods satisfactorily will require much cooperation and coordination among the many donors but, more importantly, the participation of those receiving the food. If people would like to have “food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs,” they cannot be passive recipients but must work alongside those who come to them in goodwill.
It is beginning to look like bringing the givers and receivers together is work that is necessary if we would like to address the issue of food insecurity in a manner that strengthens the notion of community as a group of people coming together to achieve something that they cannot do on their own.
Wishing you, health, and peace of mind.
Food can be a vehicle for social change. It brings people together in a way that very few activities can. – Anim Steel