Nearly 200,000 (about 12.6%) of Manhattan residents were facing food insecurity, according to estimates made in 2019. In New York City as a whole, nearly 1.2 million people (13.8%) face food insecurity. This is 12% higher than the national rate and 21% higher than the New York State’s rate. Almost 300,000 children (19%) and 275,000 women (17%) fit into this category. 20% of seniors and 30% of adult veterans also face food insecurity in New York City.
During the pandemic, officials claim that the number of food-insecure people has increased to over 2 million New York residents, which means that if you cross 4 people on the street, it is likely that 1 is facing food insecurity.
Food insecurity in Toronto, previous to COVID-19, affected close to 1 in every 5 households, or over 500,000 people (18%). This is about 5% greater than the national rates. Households in Toronto that rely on social assistance programs such as food banks or soup kitchens generally have little money to pay for rent, food, or other essentials. On a monthly average, if a family of four pays for both food and rent, a sparse $45 is left to pay for other essentials, such as electricity or water. Often, however, with fixed expenses like rent and childcare on the rise, groceries are often the first line slashed in a household’s budget, unfortunately leading to a rise in food insecurity.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of information about food insecurity in Toronto as the pandemic progresses. However, in other Canadian cities such as Saskatoon, food insecurity is at the forefront of problems, and many of whom we have spoken to are claiming the same to be true in Toronto.
Reports from Feeding America found that the total amount of money needed to help people have food continually on the table per year was 46.9 million dollars. This amount comes from the food insecure people in Nassau County (the county in which Port Washington is located), which was recorded to be close to 75,000 people (5.2% of the county). However, of these 75,000, close to 30,000 (40%) are not eligible, hence needing more money to provide for themselves and their families. This is because eligibility is dependent on how income (which varies by the number of people in a household) compares to the national poverty line. This poverty line is determined by the nation and acts as a guideline for companies that help families in their specific areas. For example, some programs offer subsidies to families that are 150% of the federal poverty level. In Nassau County, programs help those who are up to 185% of the federal poverty level. However, this is a very low amount - the household income for a family of four would be about $48,000 in order for them to be eligible for help.
Although there is no specific information about Scarsdale, we have found information about Westchester County, the county which Scarsdale is located in. In Westchester County, the annual food budget shortfall is close to 48.9 million dollars, as measured by Feeding America. This is equivalent to a total of 12.8 million meals missing from the diets of the Westchester Community, which averages to about 64 missing meals per food insecure person in Westchester. Over 200,000 people (20.7%) in Westchester are food insecure individuals, 60,000 of who are children. This means that for every 4 children you pass on the street, it is likely that at least one is facing food insecurity. According to Feeding Westchester, many children facing food insecurity rely solely on school meals to fill their diets. This means that now, during the pandemic, those children are facing a higher degree of food insecurity, as are the family members in the household that surrounds them. Furthermore, since almost 10% of New York’s COVID-19 cases stem from Westchester County, food insecurity has been at a near peak. Please note this data is not official, as no official data on food insecurity has been released from Westchester, but is an estimate based on how COVID-19 is affecting areas similar to Westchester.
What is Food Insecurity?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Note that although hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to the feeling of physical discomfort caused by prolonged lack of food, while food insecurity refers to a lack of financial resources for food, generally at the household level. Food insecurity is often associated with poor mental and physical health, as it often yields the consumption of nutrient-poor foods. It is also linked with poverty, although not all people who are food insecure face poverty.
Projected rates of food insecurity for 2020 by state, according to Feeding America’s report, The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Security. (Courtesy Feeding America)
Food Insecurity in America
Currently, nearly 37.2 million people in America live in food-insecure households. Feeding America, an organization with a nationwide network of food banks, has recently provided projections that the pandemic will increase this number to 54.3 million people, which is about 17.2% of the American population. According to Emily Englehard, the managing director of research at Feeding America, these are record levels. “We have not seen food insecurity reach these levels for the length of time that food insecurity has been measured.”
Food Insecurity in Canada
The most recent data, provided by the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2018, found that food insecurity per household ranged from 10% to 50%, depending on the state. The average food insecurity per household in Canada was found to be about 12.5%, or 1 in every 8 households. A survey provided at the end of 2019 states that 9 out of every 10 Canadians feel food prices are increasing faster than household incomes. Unfortunately, there have been no projections or information as to what food insecurity may look like during the pandemic.
Although there is no specific information about Forest Hills, we have found information about Queens, the county which Forest Hills is located in. In Queens, there is a total Meal Gap (number of meals missing from the county) of 42.9 million meals, which means that an average of 190 meals are missing per person facing food insecurity. According to Hunger Free America, it would take close to another 569 million dollars to eradicate hunger citywide for just a year. The most recent survey taken in 2018 suggests that about 9.9% of Queens residents suffer from food insecurity, or about 230,000 people. However, 85%, or 200,000 people, are not eligible for the food insecurity programs, hence requiring more money to sustain themselves. This is because eligibility is dependent on how income (which varies by the number of people in a household) compares to the national poverty line. This poverty line is determined by the nation and acts as a guideline for companies that help families in their specific areas. For example, some programs offer subsidies to families that are 150% of the federal poverty level. In Queens, the poverty line is 200% - but this amount is not as high as it seems. It only means that for a household of four, the household income has to be $52,400 in order for that household to be eligible for help.
In a study conducted by Quebec’s Public Health department, it was found that nearly 550,000 of Montrealans (13.6%) suffer food insecurity. 50,000 of these people suffer from severe food insecurity, meaning that they consistently do not have food on the table. This is mainly because of the increasing prices of fresh produce and the exorbitant cost of rent in Montreal. The increasing prices of fresh produce also have the effect of families eating food with lower nutrition and higher calories, leading to medical issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. According to the Montreal Gazette, the areas in Montreal with high concentrations of people affected by food insecurity include Montreal North, Park Extension, Cartierville, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Côte-des-Neiges, St-Henri, as well as parts of Plateau-Mont-Royal and Verdun.
Similar to most of Canada, Montreal’s rates of food insecurity have been expected to increase. Nick Saul, CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, said many who are food insecure are considered precariously employed. “Not enough hours, not enough benefits, only one salary carrying a whole family, and that salary just doesn’t pay enough,” he explained. “So when you have something like COVID, hit in the midst of that stress and uncertainty and anxiety, those ranks [in food insecurity] are only going to grow.” And unfortunately, Saul and many others believe that the food centers in Montreal, and all throughout Canada, are not equipped with the necessary resources to deal with such a crisis.
Although there is no specific information about The Hamptons, we have found information about Long Island, which is where the Hamptons are located. Before the pandemic, close to 283,700 people on Long Island were food insecure - this is nearly 65,000 people per week. Of these people, over 11,000 are senior citizens and over 15,000 are victims of abuse who have been forced to flee their homes. Almost 200,000 of these people are from minority groups. 39% of Long Islanders who receive emergency food are children under 18. However, while children are among the largest single population of hungry, they have virtually no voice; their needs are easily dismissed and overlooked, and they must rely on others to access the feeding programs and services they need. Children who face food insecurity are more likely than their peers to experience behavioral issues, reduced ability to learn social skills, impaired cognitive learning, and permanent brain damage. Since the pandemic, projections of food insecurity have rocketed. Paule Pachter, the CEO of Long Island Cares, recently stated that “We're going to see here on Long Island...in the months to come and maybe longer, a 20 percent increase in food insecurity.” This means that close to another 60,000 people will be facing food insecurity before long. This is after the reports of nearly 50,000 new people from Long Island requesting for help. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in Long Island is up due to summer job opportunities being cancelled. Cathy Demerto of Community Action-Southold Town (CAST) said, “They rely on the wages that they get during the season, which is really from March through November. So, when this started, many of our clients who don’t have a cushion, were out of work. They’re still out of work.” This has led to a five-fold increase in CAST customers. Unfortunately, the loss of jobs has been a major factor in the increase in food insecurity, and may continue to be for a while.