Field Notes

Study Shows Relationship Between Housing Instability, Food Insecurity

A retrospective study found food insecurity and housing instability are bidirectionally linked and must be addressed together to solve a problem that affected millions even before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many Americans out of the workforce.

The study is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Policymakers need to understand this connection so we can get families the help they need,” says Daphne Hernandez, PhD, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor at Cizik School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She’s also a Lee and Joseph Jamail Distinguished Professor in the School of Nursing. “Most of these families will continue to live their lives hungry and in unstable households if we do not act and do what we can to reduce the material hardship they are facing, especially during the current economic climate where the number of individuals or families experiencing food insecurity and housing instability is increasing.”

Food insecurity exists when a family can’t access enough food for all family members in the household to live healthful and active lives. Housing instability refers to the lack of security in a shelter due to the high cost of living, poor housing quality, frequent relocations, overcrowding, or homelessness. Both are forms of material hardship.

Although programs are in place to assist with both hunger and homelessness, researchers say programs aren’t currently designed to meet the needs in both housing instability and food insecurity at the same time. Currently, public policies address food insecurity and housing instability separately.

Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study that included surveys from 2,368 families, researchers found that food-insecure families were predictive of experiencing housing instability over time, and vice versa.

“Previous research has found that families or individuals that experience food insecurity tend to experience other economic hardships, such as disconnected utilities owing to missed bill payments, which is one of the factors associated with housing instability,” Hernandez says.

In addition, researchers wrote that families who experienced both food insecurity and housing instability were more likely to be ethnic minorities and more socioeconomically disadvantaged compared with families who didn’t have these experiences.

Researchers hope these findings may assist in determining whether it might be beneficial to integrate policies and social services to reduce further material hardship experiences.

— Source: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston


Cornell, Public School Collaborative Food Truck Helps Buffalo Families in Need

Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) recently unveiled a brand-new food truck. The “Farm to School to You” food truck—developed with input from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE)—will visit sites throughout Buffalo to bring free meals to families in need, regardless of whether they have children enrolled in the district.

“We want to provide an opportunity for families to help meet their budget needs,” says Bridget O’Brien-Wood, BPS foodservice director. “Seventy-six percent of our students qualify for a free meal, so we know families are facing big challenges right now. We are determined to get this farm-to-school food truck out on the road to offer our families a hot, nutritious lunch.”

BPS currently is offering online-only instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but when students return to in-person instruction, the food truck will rotate through the district’s 16 high schools and its various child nutrition programs, including after-school and summer foodservice programs. BPS foodservice workers will serve hot lunches made with locally grown ingredients, and teachers and staff will provide educational opportunities linked to the district’s farm-to-school programming.

CCE’s Harvest New York agricultural economic development team has been helping to pave the way for the “Farm to School to You” food truck. Specialist Cheryl Thayer, MPA, and farm-to-institution coordinator Becky O’Connor, MPH, are heavily involved in the district’s farm-to-school program, and helped BPS conceptualize the project. Thayer and O’Connor worked with local farmers to procure fresh produce, dairy, and meat products for the entire BPS farm-to-school program.

“The Buffalo farm-to-school team saw the food truck as a literal and figurative vehicle to address persistent challenges in their farm-to-school program, which include forging a deeper connection to the classroom, providing a more effective means to engage the community, and offering a solution to expand the program beyond just the school lunch program,” Thayer says. “It also amplifies the district’s ability to use and purchase more locally grown and produced food.”

During the 2019–2020 school year, the Buffalo farm-to-school program spent more than $2 million—more than 40% of its lunch expenditures—on New York produce, juice, dairy, and beef products. Meals from the food truck include nachos, hot dogs, and rice bowls, which use beef raised by Empire State Farms and beans grown by Genesee Valley Bean Co. The tomatoes, lettuce, and bell peppers used in these menu items are from Eden Valley Growers, a vegetable cooperative in Eden, New York, and Groundwork Market Garden, an urban farm in Buffalo.

“The district’s commitment to support beginner and urban farmers is an important one,” Thayer says. “Those types of operations typically struggle to enter institutional markets because they can’t meet volume and distribution needs. Yet, they are located in the district’s backyard and are critically important members of our community food system.”

— Source: Cornell University