Technological Interventions for Food Insecurity in America

Food Insecurity in America: What We Know

We know that 1 in 6 Americans do not have enough food to eat. We know that food deserts are a real problem in America- places where the nearest grocery store is more than a half mile away, posing a considerable barrier for people without cars or sufficient public transportation, and where the nearest nutrition comes from fast food restaurants and liquor stores.

Thanks to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap,” and USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, we know pretty well where people are feeling the effects of America’s food insecurity most. As National Geographic astutely asks in their article that puts a face on American hunger and examines this issue in great depth, “why are people malnourished in the richest country on Earth?“:

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We also know that this issue has racial overtones. African Americans are the demographic most likely to be hungry in school, and most likely to face life-long health problems from bad nutrition, and are at a severe disadvantage in this respect:

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What We Don’t Know For Sure Yet

America has faced hunger as a public health concern for decades, as this CBS video put out in 1968 demonstrates:

The similarity between 1968 and 2014 is that hunger is still a national issue. The difference between then and now is that today we have infinitely more technological capacity at our fingertips. I agree with Senator McGovern that these greater resources imply a greater moral imperative to confront food insecurity and eradicate it:

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So while we know we have more resources and capacity to do something than ever before, we do not quite know how to go about using those resources on a national scale.

Project Goals

I intend to investigate how technology can be harnessed to alleviate food insecurity and eradicate nutrition deserts in America. How can we harness the power of technology to educate and coordinate nutrition for everyone, leaving no demographic underserved? My plan is to document the most promising technological interventions currently being created and implemented.

For example, we know certain interventions, like more public transportation, and more available nutritious food, are valuable. But how can technology improve peoples’ access to transportation and nutrition? After some initial digging on google, it is clear innovators are starting to create solutions, like food trucks and mobile marketsapps, and other innovative approaches to using technology to eradicate food insecurity.

Simply stated, my goals are to:

1) raise awareness about American food insecurity and how it disproportionately affects certain demographics, because raising awareness is the first step toward meaningful social change,

2) highlight the most promising technological interventions that are working so far, in essence offering a policy agenda based on the most successful approaches, and

3) explore challenges and limitations that might get in the way of scaling these interventions nationally. I will use the sociological lens of race and technology to analyze and recommend solutions.

Project Details

First, I will further research to what extent are people using technology to address hunger? Second, I will infer from this research how technology could be used even more, and identify potential sociological complications- would cultural traditions need to be changed and people reeducated about healthy food choices? How could technology help expedite that reeducation process? Do such approaches sustainably empower the disadvantaged, or reinforce racial disparities?

Specifically, I will select two or three of the most promising technological interventions, for instance an app and a social-media-driven mobile market movement, and interview their creators and other leaders of the food-technology movement, asking them to what extent technology is enabling them to address hunger, and what hope they see for the future. Next, I will collect data on the feasibility of scaling these approaches nationally, i.e. are they worth it and would they be sustainable?

I will use Medium.com to create a story with pictures, because I believe pictures are powerful instruments of change, and I know people remember stories.Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 8.52.05 AM

Medium is a multimedia platform that will allow me to tell a logically-ordered story with words and pictures. I will use it to highlight the problem, to highlight technological solutions, to highlight hope and challenges for the future, and to imagine what is possible.

Works Cited

Food + Tech Connect. Food + Tech Connect, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“Food Access Research Atlas.” USDA Economic Research Service. USDA, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Gould, Danielle. “Fighting Food Deserts With An Android & Data For The Public Good.”
Food + Tech Connect. Food + Tech Connect, 20 Nov. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
GREENSBOROOBSERVER. “A Developer’s Approach to Solving Food Deserts – Part One.” Greensboroobserver. Word Press, 23 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“Hunger & Justice Quotes.” Stop Hunger Now. Stop Hunger Now, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“Hunger in America: Food Insecurity Disproportionately Affects African-Americans.” TheGrio. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
J, Garry. “Cbs Documentary Hunger in America (1968).” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Lazarus, Paul Osinachi. “Food Desert App: User Study Design.” Paul Osinachi Lazarus. Paul Osinachi Lazarus, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“Map the Meal Gap.” Feeding America. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
McMillan, Tracie. “The New Face of Hunger.” National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic, 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
“Medium.” Medium. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
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