What is food insecurity?

Many people know that cooking a healthy meal for dinner is better than preparing one that is pre-packaged or processed. For those of us who don’t experience food insecurity, eating right simply comes down to a choice. But what if you didn’t have that choice?

There are individuals and families in Missouri that are forced to purchase less healthy or less filling food at the grocery store because they are limited by income and circumstance. Being food insecure means accepting whatever food is affordable, rather than what – or how much – food is best for you and your family.

Food insecurity in Missouri is higher than the national average – 12% of our neighbors meet the official USDA definition of “low food security” or “very low food security”. One in eight rely on federal SNAP to help put some or all of the food on their table every day. We should call this what it is – hunger. In a state that is known for agriculture, the production of food, it is difficult to imagine that so many people would go hungry. But they do, every single day.

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This is why Empower Missouri initiated the #MOSNAPChallenge, adapted from the Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) national SNAP Challenge. We want the elected officials in Missouri to understand the struggle that many of the people they represent experience when they go grocery shopping. What decisions would they make if they could only spend $1.33 per person per meal and had a limited list of things they could buy?

We’ll be asking participants in the challenge to go to their local grocery store and shop for a three-day supply of food for a family of four using only the average SNAP benefit in Missouri – $1.33 per person per meal. That means that they will have $47.88 to buy 36 nutritious meals – no easy task.

We think that it is crucially important for legislators to understand the daily experiences of the constituents they represent. If you think that your representatives, both on the state and federal level, should take this challenge, then you can use our handy advocacy tool to send them an email letting them know. We have a pre-written message that you can send, or you can customize it with your own story. This will then be sent to your state representative, state senator, U.S house member, and U.S. senators Blunt and Hawley. 

If you are interested in learning from the experiences of your neighbors who live with food insecurity, we’d also like to invite you to take the challenge yourself. Some will not need to take the challenge to understand the difficulty of living on SNAP benefits, because you’ve already experienced it at some point in your life, or are currently experiencing it. We want to hear your stories, too. You can learn the rules and guidelines at the challenge website, and reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions, or want to submit the story of your experience with SNAP.

Finally, there has to be a takeaway from this experience. We can’t just ask people to take a challenge like this and then go back to their normal lives without thinking about it again. That’s why we’ll be hosting a panel of participants in the challenge on Nov. 9th at our annual conference, Building Blocks of Missouri’s Success. This is a one-day conference in Columbia, MO that will highlight the foundational importance of meeting everyone’s basic needs in order to have a successful Missouri. You can register for the low-cost event here, or become a sponsor here

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