THE ISSUE: FOOD ACCESS AND INSECURITY

Historically, malnutrition and hunger have almost always been seen as an issue within both the nation and New Jersey. However, over the past decade new focus has been given to addressing why this issue effects entire generations and regions. One of the greatest factors recognized is assessing the proximity of healthy food to a neighborhood, and its citizen’s ability to acquire it. All too often the realization has been that many low income neighborhoods and boroughs have little to no access to healthy food vendors in their area. This often leaves inferior alternatives such as corner stores, bodegas, and other junk-food retailers as the only remaining options. While surviving off of a diet from places like these is possible, the ability to develop and grow is stunted in the best of cases, and next to impossible in the worst.

Addressing the issue of food access is not only important because it can solve immediate problems for families and individuals, but because it can also ensure that a child develops into the best adult that they can be. Like nearly everything else involving healthy homes, food access is one that directly harms children and elderly the most, with the solutions offering to aid them the most.


THE EFFECTS

The lack of nutrition that living in a food desert can cause has a list of negative effects. While fatigue and low amounts of energy are well known effects of poor nutrition, the extremely young and elderly suffer the most from its effects. It is no secret that a child’s first years are the most crucial to its mental and physical development, because of this the importance of all NJ residents having access to healthy and nutritious foods is that much greater. Some of the known consequences of food insecurity are:

Physical:  s
tunted growth, slower healing of wounds, higher chances of bone fractures and breaks, impaired immune system, increased chances of poor eyesight

Mental:  slowed brain development, lower than average attention span, increased chance of apathy and depression, lower IQ in later life, higher risk for cognitive disease

A lack of availability for healthy foods also serves to increase both the United States’ and New Jersey’s ever-growing obesity epidemic, which has proven difficult to manage even in areas where healthy and nutritious foods are an option. In areas of the state were these foods are not readily available an increasing number of families, youth, and adults will have no choice but to turn to less healthy alternatives. The negative outcomes of being limited to such a diet are exponential in their potential impacts on both one’s quality of life, and the community they live in as a whole.

 


WHERE IN NJ
Food deserts are not a problem limited only to one city, environment, or location within New Jersey. Urban and rural areas alike face difficulties obtaining fresh and healthy foods, with various locations like Atlantic City, Camden, Salem County, and Newark all facing issues regarding a lack of access to affordable and nutritious foods. In a part of the nation known as “The Garden State” this is and should be more widely seen as an unacceptable situation for our fellow residents.

Entities based both nationally and in New Jersey have dedicated resources to mapping out conditions surrounding food insecurity across the state with a series of priorities.



USDA Food Atlas Map
A map with the widest amount of topics with a varying level of dates on data collected. Click here to access

 

 



Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap

A comprehensive map constructed by a nationwide food non-profit (501-C3) that uses data such as basic costs of living enrollment in government meal programs, and the average food/meal costs in an area to calculate food insecurity with up-to-date estimates. Click here to access 


Examples
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Using the latest data made available by the USDA in 2018 and compiled by other institutions in 2020, three examples of locations facing food insecurity across New Jersey have been provided to aid in visualizing the scope of the issue facing our state:

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SOLUTIONS 
A wide variety of solutions exist in combatting issues with food access and insecurity. CDCs, branches of municipal government, concerned resident groups, and private philanthropists have all shown the capacity to face the challenges presented in a variety of ways. Some of these strategies are as follows, with many being conducted by members of the Network aid in the effort to bring healthy and nutritious foods into the lives of those who need them:

Additional & Alternative Vendors
An obvious solution to combatting a lack of healthy foods in a community is to create more vendors that can make them available to residents.

Subsidized Supermarkets
Grocery chains are beginning to find ways through subsidy programs to create low-cost environments for fresh and healthy foods in areas traditionally seen as food deserts. Often incentivizing healthy alternatives such as grilled instead of fried foods prepared on-site, and advertising various forms of produce over junk food, these types of supermarkets are often the largest-scale and best recognized form of solution. However these can be costly and the most affected by market trends.

Legislation promoting the building/construction of new grocers in recognized food deserts is an idea that has growing recognition among New Jersey’s legislators. Often proposed through the use of tax credits, these programs in combination with anti-food waste initiatives are one form of solution from state itself.

Healthy Corner-stores 
While new supermarkets and large-scale grocers are often seen as the ideal solution, a typically more immediate and less difficult alternative exists in using what is already established within a neighborhood. Using this mentality, programs such as the Healthy Corner-store initiative have worked with the owners of small scale food outlets within urban areas to assist them in expanding and introducing healthy options to their stock. The result is timely relief in local areas that may not see large-scale supermarkets and grocery stores developed on a practical schedule.

Community-Based Solutions
New Jersey has also seen community-centric solutions created across various municipalities to combat the consequences of food insecurity.

Examples of Network Members Fighting Food Insecurity 
The Network has multiple members who are involved in combatting food insecurity in a variety of ways across New Jersey.

North Jersey:

La Casa De Don Pedro’s holiday food and toy drive in the months of November and December collects meal ingredients and gifts for children of all ages (0-18) to distribute over the December holidays. Businesses are also incentivized to directly “adopt” a classroom or school to aid on a larger scale.


Morris Canal Community Development Corporation through its Lafayette Learning Community Garden is able to assist low-income residents in obtaining healthy foods and help their children become educated about matters of eating well. Morris Canal CDCs members are firm believers that the act of gardening can nourish the body, mind, and soul, creating a lasting impact across generations that is not limited to diet only.


The Northwest New Jersey Community Action Partnership addresses the issue of food insecurity in multiple ways. Whether this be through their food bank, food surplus giveaways, backpack initiative, or summer food service program. All of these examples are some NORWESCAPs strategies for bridging all members of the community with healthy lifestyles.

 

South & Central Jersey:


Arm In Arm operates three food pantries in Mercer County that are aimed at helping to fill some of the financial gaps with food that lower-income residents face. Additionally, their home delivery service ensures that up to 150 elderly and housebound residents receive healthy foods with proper nutrition.



Community Foundation of South Jersey has a Move for Hunger initiative that tackles food insecurity and food waste by mobilizing a network of relocation partners to collect and deliver non-perishable food for struggling families. They also work with the Food Bank of South Jersey to provide an immediate solution to the urgent problem of hunger by providing food to people in need, teaching them to eat nutritiously, and helping them to find sustainable ways to improve their lives.


Midtown Urban Renaissance Corporation has been working with First Pentecostal Church, Neptune Township’s Administration, Public Works, Recreation and the Gannett Foundation to help the surrounding neighborhoods create a community garden and improve the area around it and beyond since 2018.

RESOURCES

New Jersey Food Resources:

NJ County Food Resource Guide

Community Food Bank of New Jersey

Food Bank of South Jersey

List of Summer Feeding Sites

SNAP Information:

SNAP Online Application

SNAP Retailer Locator

Required Foods for Snap Retailers

Requirements for Online SNAP Retailers

Food Insecurity Studies:

Feeding America New Jersey Food Insecurity Summary

2019 Food Insecurity in Middlesex County by Rutgers University

Food Insecurity Among Students in New Brunswick