The U.S. Department of Agriculture just published its annual report on the state of household food security in the U.S. in 2022, and the situation is becoming worse than we imagined.
Last year, 12.8 percent of households—17 million households—reported being food-insecure. That’s higher than both 2021 (10.2 percent, or 13.5 million households) and 2020 (10.5 percent, of 13.8 million households).
Kids and marginalized communities were also more likely to experience food-insecurity last year, compared both to previous years and to the 2022 national average.
Of households with children, 17.3 percent experienced food insecurity. Sometimes, adults skip a meal or eat less to feed their children, but even still—in about half those households (8.8 percent), the kids themselves have low or very low food security. That number, too, is up from both 2020 and 2021.
Fully one-third of households with children headed by a single mother experienced food-insecurity. And regardless of whether a household included children, food insecurity rates for those composed of people of color, including Hispanic and Black households, were significantly above the national average.
I’m sad, and I’m disappointed. To me, this should be a moral outrage for all of us. But, frankly, I’m not entirely surprised. On global and national levels, we’ve seen plenty of warning signs over the past months and years that hunger is getting worse.
Reading this report, I’m thinking through a couple big questions: One, why are we moving in the wrong direction on food security levels? And two, what will it take to solve not just food insecurity, but worsening food insecurity?
First things first. Covid-19 was an all-out food security emergency, with institutions and officials scrambling in the early days of the pandemic—when so much was unknown—to keep folks fed. Crucially, the government stepped in to expand SNAP eligibility, give financial help to food producers and restaurants, support farmers, and more. But these changes were temporary.
Part of why the food-insecurity rates are on the rise right now is because the emergency programs put in place during the early days of the pandemic are steadily being eroded. Food Tank reported on this earlier this year.
“The unwinding of critical Covid-19 pandemic interventions has made it more difficult for millions of families to afford to put food on the table,” said Luis Guardia, President of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).
During the pandemic, we saw clearly that food relief works. Expanding SNAP funding works. Direct monetary assistance works. Universal school meals work. Supporting many different food distribution networks, from food banks to food donation, works.
But emergency, short-term programs are supposed to bridge us to something better—not be the be-all, end-all. For too long, we’ve been trying to fix deep fractures in the food system with Band-Aids.
Food insecurity is getting worse right now because, broadly speaking, we have not succeeded in turning short-term fixes into workable, functional long-term policies.
We need serious, sustainable, justice-driven transformations to the ways we think about feeding our communities.
So, now what? How do we get there?
For starters, let’s make food relief programs accessible, fully funded, and permanent. Everyone who needs supplemental food should be able to access and afford it. We need to make it easy and worthwhile for more food vendors to accept SNAP benefits, too.
Let’s also honor and support the community-rooted organizations, faith groups, and advocates who are building vital and creative pathways toward food access—while also recognizing that we cannot place the burden of fixing years of harmful food policy entirely upon our civil society.
And let’s work beyond food systems! As we’ve said before, the most effective solution to hunger is to eliminate poverty.
Looking back at the 2022 statistics, food insecurity was extraordinarily high among households at or below the federal poverty threshold. But the situation began to improve—although rates were still significantly above the national average—for households whose incomes were at about 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty threshold.
On a policy level, we’re seeing some changes in the right direction. I’m so pleased to see several states adopting legislation guaranteeing free school meals to all students. I’m also keeping a close eye on a three-part piece of legislation up for discussion in the Senate this week that would direct more funding to the USDA and Food and Drug Administration, including specifically toward urban agriculture and agency staffing levels.
The Farm Bill is still in the balance—and with it, the shape of our entire country’s food policy and the future of relief programs like SNAP. Realistically, the changes we’re going to see from this legislation are likely not going to be transformative enough to completely eliminate food insecurity. But I’m optimistic that Congressional action this year could still reverse the concerning upward spike in food insecurity.
I’m hopeful that we can at least stop food insecurity from becoming even worse in this country, while we continue to advocate for more systemic changes.
I know this can feel overwhelming to read and to think about. But for me, solving food insecurity boils down to one simple thing: Caring for our fellow human beings.
A world in which we genuinely care for the well-being of our neighbors is one where our food system is able to nourish people with healthy, affordable, delicious, accessible food.
And I do believe we can live in that world. Every day, I see countless folks out there on the front lines of the food system, fighting the good fight to get people the food they need. They’re building that world.