Food Security Council offers food for thought, and action

By Dennis Archambault

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed several deficiencies within what we know to be social determinants of health. And to no surprise, those deficiencies are exacerbated by racial disparities in health – disparities that negatively impact immunity to diseases such as the coronavirus. Food insecurity, and related malnutrition and obesity, is something that an affluent nation like the United States can remedy, given the political will and social ingenuity.

The Food Security Council, commissioned by Gov. Whitmer last year, submitted a preliminary report this week that offers food for thought and action. Its initial recommendations include:

  • The state should pursue existing federal program services and develop flexible food distribution approaches, such as home delivery and online food assistance payment acceptance.
  • Develop a framework for communities to create a local emergency response plan and to develop data-sharing and food distribution tracking. Continue partnerships with food banks, Michigan National Guard, and other food and nutrition programs/services to assist with distribution strategies.
  • Develop a communications strategy to address “panic-buying” and to prioritize food workers on the front lines of the supply chain; also, create a statewide program to engage restaurants to distribute prepared meals to vulnerable populations

Food system advocates have mapped out and studied areas labeled as “food deserts” and “food swamps” for several years.  The economic malaise caused by the pandemic has worsened food access for many people in Detroit and throughout Michigan. Phillip Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan who chairs the Food Security Council, said society needs to address “root causes as to why people are food insecure.” Among them is employment that pays a living wage. However worthy of advocacy, that is an upstream issue.  We also need to create solutions at the midstream, local level, to mitigate the problem through innovative distribution systems and support the availability of locally sourced affordable healthy food.

An example of how that is occurring is the work of the Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit coalition and an emergency food distribution system for low income older adults living in senior housing in the midtown and downtown areas of the city. It took several weeks and the collaboration of multiple agencies, but late last year the coalition figured it out and partners agreed to meet the need of an estimated 3,500 seniors, some of whom were food insecure during the early months of the pandemic.

The pandemic will be with us for several months yet. Food insecurity will be with us much longer, unfortunately. But local initiatives with state and federal programmatic support can create solutions.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health. Authority Health is a member of the Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit coalition.