At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we know the numbers surrounding need when it comes to hunger: One in eight Americans are food insecure. One in six children are hungry. This adds up to more than 40 million people and 20 million households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. There are so many ways to say the same thing- the number of people who are going hungry continues to increase. From 1995 to 2017, the prevalence of food insecurity in American households has fluctuated, but has never fallen below 10 percent.
Just hearing the numbers above is staggering. But, while I opened this blog by leading with the challenge, my field placement as a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow at Greater Twin Cities United Way has taught me the importance of switching the narrative when it comes to talking about hunger and food security. This is for the purposes of shifting power, providing agency, and inspiring change.
Instead of leading with the problem, we could all do more to lead with the solution.
For example, in North Minneapolis a network of nonprofit organizations, youth, community activists, urban farmers, local businesses, and residents are working to strengthen their community food system. While the Greater Twin Cities overall metro ranks high on “best places to live” and “most bike-friendly cities” lists, neighborhoods like North Minneapolis are not usually described this way. Decades of disinvestment have left North Minneapolis to navigate challenges unseen across other parts of the city, including high rates of food insecurity due to low access and affordability.
Nevertheless, the community is innovative and determined to build a holistic food system aimed at bolstering community and economic development, increasing food access and affordability, supporting local leadership and youth empowerment, and creating avenues to policy change.
Examples include a food business incubator helping first-time entrepreneurs open local restaurants, a neighborhood association enabling residents to turn vacant city boulevards into thriving vegetable gardens, and a social enterprise teaching youth about healthy foods as well as job skills. These are only three examples of over a dozen unique ways the community is investing in itself to generate long-lasting change. Each taught me something new about what it takes to foster a sustainable community food system and the impact of leading with solutions.
We can only restate the problem at hand so many times. We must give people something they can believe in.
Food insecurity will continue to grow if we are not uplifting solutions and demonstrating our current reality is something we can improve. My Greater Twin Cities United Way placement has been a reminder of what I believe to be true: For North Minneapolis, and for all communities, food is more than food. It’s a vehicle to a better future. We hope you'll take action to halt hunger in our community by volunteering, donating, or advocating this Spring.
Kiese Hansen is a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow who recently spent six months at Greater Twin Cities United Way. Kiese graduated from the University of Maryland in 2015 with a degree in economics. She holds a deep interest in domestic economic inequality, particularly as it relates to race, gender, food insecurity, and wealth. The Congressional Hunger Center gratefully acknowledges the support of the General Mills Foundation which made Kiese’s placement possible.