A Warning and a Wakeup Call Around Nutrition Equity
October 16, 2020
Asma Lateef | Director | Bread for the World Institute
Publisher’s note: This piece was written by Asma Lateef in her capacity as Interim Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger from July through October 2020.
World Food Day has traditionally been a time for our community to step back and reflect on the state of food, nutrition, and agriculture in the world. We take this opportunity to dive into the complexities of food systems, economies, policies, and trends; and we celebrate innovations and success stories around the globe. This year, as it has done with so many other aspects of our lives, COVID-19 has taken center stage and has shone a light on the fundamental injustices plaguing the issue of food and nutrition.
By now we are well-aware of the serious nature of the novel Coronavirus when it infects the elderly and those with underlying conditions. Many of these underlying conditions – high blood pressure, obesity, heart conditions, diabetes, and some cancers – can be tied to peoples’ inability to obtain a nutritious diet. Foods that are highly processed, high in sodium and sugar, high in fat, and low in essential nutrients are often the easiest and most affordable foods for low-income families. COVID-19 can strike anybody anywhere in ways we are still trying to understand; but make no mistake, those who already struggle to put food on the table are at increased risk from this health crisis. Unfortunately, these are in many cases the same individuals that are on the “front lines” in grocery stores, care facilities, and in support roles at schools and healthcare facilities. Further, we also know that people of color are disproportionately represented among these essential workers.
This is not simply an American problem. Just yesterday, the Alliance teamed up with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to hold a high-level panel, as part of the World Food Prize events, on building resilient and sustainable food systems. Lawrence Haddad , Executive Director of GAIN and 2018 World Food Prize Laureate, noted the focus on equity in the most recent State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. He underscored that even before the pandemic, there were more than 3 billion people in the world who cannot afford a healthy diet. Dr. Haddad stated that this should be the new standard through which we understand the “haves” and “have nots.” He is absolutely right, and we are now witnessing the accelerated translation of this into health outcomes through COVID-19.
This World Food Day we would do well to remember once again that food security, health, nutrition, livelihoods, and sustainability are all matters of justice and policy. They are all interconnected and demand holistic responses. In the next few weeks, here in the United States, citizens will have the opportunity to bring this message home and make their voices heard at the ballot box. This and every election is a time to remind people seeking public office and elected officials that these issues matter deeply to voters. It is a message that our own well-being – and the lives of countless others around the world – may quite literally depend on.