What it takes to combat food insecurity?

To combat food insecurity is in everyone’s best interest, but it’s how to get there that presents political and social challenges

Take a look at this list of promises to combat food insecurity.

  • increase minimum wages 
  • install green spaces in towns and cities
  • upgrade public transport systems everywhere
  • prioritise school education on nutrition and agriculture 
  • promote affordable, accessible childcare for all 
  • maintain the right of citizens to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods,
  • decentralise the food system. 

This list could easily be a manifesto by a political party — most likely socialist or progressive — seeking the electorate’s approval. Instead, it comes from an article by food systems advisor Arturo Jose Garcia, an adaptation of his list of actions needed to combat food insecurity.

The promises emphasise the importance of maintaining citizens’ right to healthy and sustainable food sources, solutions built around equitable access to food.
In turn, access connects with ideas on the skewed consumption of food and food waste, the food that is never eaten, rather than on the amount of food produced.

trash and food waste piled up against a wall to show how hard it will be to combat food insecurity
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

UNEP estimates that around one third or 1.3 billion tonnes of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

What happens if the promises are met?

Higher-income will improve well-being so long as wages keep pace with inflation. Despite the low levels of inflation over recent decades in mature economies, just ask Zimbabweans if they need higher wages. 

Better public transport and childcare make earning wages easier or to have dual-income households who can then enjoy green spaces. But the premise here is more a requirement than a lifestyle gain. If the dual income was part-time but sufficient to meet needs, that might still be better.

Human rights to culturally appropriate food with balanced nutrition are foundational. Rights are also tight with social capital. If food were a right, it would change everything. It might even make it possible to produce food sustainably.

If food were a right, it would also enable the politics of shortening the food supply chain and weaning the food supply off capital-intensive production.

The significant promise on the list has to be the priority of school education for nutrition and agriculture. If kids learn where food comes from, how it is grown and what they should eat and avoid eating, then a new generation will recognise the need to combat food insecurity. 

They will also be full of ideas on how to make it happen.

Is there enough food production to combat food insecurity?

It may be different by 2050, but for the moment, global food production is more than sufficient to feed everyone, a remarkable fact given the 22 trillion kilocalories a day challenge.

Analysts and researchers agree that enough calories are grown on farms to feed everyone. But inefficient distribution and waste along the supply chain create shortages at certain times and places.  

The production of foods to meet nutrient needs has gaps, especially for global fruit and vegetables, but structural tweaks could restore availability. 

Given that food production is strong, the focus to combat food insecurity is universal food access, hence a list of promises focusing on reducing poverty and shortening food supply chains.

Cheap food and wealth creation would improve food access. Many politicians would argue that policies are already in place because the market sorts out both. 

So what to make of this observation by Sentient Media that…

As of April 2021, you can walk into a McDonald’s anywhere in the U.S. and buy a burger for $1. If buying wholesale, you can purchase chicken at $0.78 per pound and eggs at $0.80. The vegan alternatives to these products are far more expensive: Boca chicken patties come in at $4 a pound, and Just Eggs come in at $8.

Access to cheap food is fixed by raising living standards. Access to healthy alternatives is a step further because a substantial price disparity exists for foods perceived as more nutritious options.

The convenience of the modern staples, highly processed options containing bread, sugar and seed oils with a hint of meat and dairy, is attractive. But people are tempted to eat poorly.

Access to healthy food

Access to affordable food drives the promises in Arturo Garcia’s list. There is a problem if cheap food lacks nutrition. Access to grains, sugar, and vegetable oils might keep people in calories, but it does not guarantee their health.  Access alone is not enough.

Good nutrition is a social problem. If promises are expected to result in equitable access to healthy food, then that education promise is essential as is the definition and supply of healthy food to everyone.

All this socialism may be politically unpalatable to many, but it does provide a solution to global food security.  Libertarians and those on the right will not find their economic outcomes in a world where people are starving.

Arturo Garcia puts forward another benefit of equitable access:

Quote from Arturo Garcia that food security benefits all

What sustainably FED suggests

We like promises to combat food insecurity. Increasing minimum wages, installing green spaces in urban areas, prioritising nutrition and agriculture education in schools, and promoting sustainable and ecologically sound food production methods will cover the crucial requirements. 

The take-home is to think of food more widely.

Ingestion is always the most sacred of actions, and for most of us, what we eat and when is a choice. It is easy to become insular and selfish regarding food. What we eat is personal. 

The principle of equitable access to healthy food is more significant than the individual, and that is how we need to view food, at least some of the time.

Food security becomes the right of citizens to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. 

The cheap food options from the mass production of grains, sugar and seed oils only go so far.

Access to healthy food is more complex than feeding people empty calories.

Hero image from photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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