Friday, February 4, 2011

What Does "Food Security" Mean?

"So what do you want to do after college?" This sentence haunted me during my last semester of undergraduate study, but it wasn't because I had no answer. I knew that I wanted to work on issues pertaining to food security and development, and preferred to study cases in the African Sahel. However, most of those concepts are lost on, say, my grandmother who is a Realtor or my brother who is going pro in keg tapping. (Sorry Nana and Marshall!) I dreaded questions about my future because I am terrible at condensing my interests and ultimate career goals. Eventually, I got better at stating my point, concisely. "I want to study food security issues in developing African countries in graduate school, and hope to apply my expertise in a non-governmental body or with an agency like USAID." However, my friends and family still expressed confusion over what I meant by "food security."

Although many scholars still quibble over exact definitions of the terms "food security" or "food insecurity," many agree that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization provides a solid definition.

"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Essentially, those working to curb instances of food insecurity focus on a myriad of issues ranging from the micro-level (issues like household nutrition, best practices for sustainable household farming) to macro-level issues (such as World Trade Organization tariff quotas on agricultural products). Food security is an on-going and complex issue tied in to economics, culture, national and international politics, geography- I could go on. Recently I've been interested in how one country's domestic agricultural policy affects agricultural output in another. (For instance, how does USDA subsidization of corn affect output or price of corn in Zimbabwe?) I'm also interested in the politics of famine (did you know that famine can happen when a surplus of food exists in a country?!) and the role of intergovernmental organizations in impacting global food policy.

Seems pretty dry, doesn't it? Oh well. Food has had such a profound impact in my life at a level much higher than simple nutritional subsistence. Food sustains us physically, of course, but food can be a spiritual thing. Food has the power to connect us to the earth, to our past, to the people in our lives, and to people we'll never know. I doubt I'll have the ability to instill this reverence about food in others, and that certainly isn't my goal. I simply hope to make some small positive effect on the life or lives of those who are hungry and unable to help themselves. We'll wait and see how that goes.

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