Dr Katie Martin is my guest today on Inside Ideas. The Executive Director of the Foodshare Institute for Hunger Research & Solutions, she has dedicated her career to researching food insecurity, and is the author of the new book: “Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries: New Tools to End Hunger”.
On the show, Dr Martin talks about the scourge of food insecurity in the United States and the devastating ways in which COVID is making it worse. Explaining what it means to be food insecure, she calls for the creation of a paradigm shift in the charitable food system: to move from short-term transactions of food, to long-term transformations of lives.
Dr Martin works at a regional level food bank in Connecticut that distributes to local programs. With a background in research, she is focused on finding out who they serve, to help create more effective models. And when COVID happened she led efforts to survey pantries in the area to find out how many had closed. The answer was a quarter, because many were staffed by senior citizens who had to shield. This at a time when 70% of people who had never used food banks were relying on them.
“With a quarter closing, due to COVID, we created a drive-through distribution programme by setting up camp at a football stadium, where people lined up in cars and we put food in their trunks,” she said.
And while she was impressed with the resilience and goodwill of volunteers, the situation has shone a light on the weaknesses in the system, where people of colour and single mums now face even tougher challenges.
“The inequality was already there but for the people who were most at risk before COVID that risk has deepened and gotten harder,” Dr Martin told me. “And it was already particularly hard for people of colour, who face a triple threat. They are at most risk from food insecurity, they are at most risk of losing their job, and being employed in the service industry – in low wage jobs, they are more likely to contract COVID. So it is not just about not having food, it is about all these other economic factors that go in to it.
“Single mums are also suffering, specifically black and latino single mums. Think of those who have lost their job, are homeschooling, while being asked to work, despite childcare being closed – it is all too much to ask. When you are relying on school meals and they are no longer available, it is challenging. Food banks have stepped in and have been finding creative ways of partnering with schools to meet what is an extraordinary need.”
Katie has dedicated her career to researching food insecurity, talking with individuals who experience food insecurity, visiting food banks and food pantries, and creating programs to provide more long-term solutions to hunger.
“We need more people involved so people are not working in silos, there needs to be a more coordinated response,” she added.
Dr Martin is on a mission to eradicate food insecurity by building a more creative and coordinated system that leaves nobody behind. I am delighted to welcome her as my guest on today’s show to hear more about these ideas.