Sandy Rikoon is the rural sociology professor and director of the Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program in the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security at the University of Missouri. He is one of the 10 researchers that assessed food uncertainty across the state through the Missouri Hunger Atlas 2013. Rikoon and researchers conducted a previous atlas during 2010. Comparing the 2010 and 2013 atlases, Rikoon has identified what has changed, what has stayed the same and suggests what those in power can do for the hungry. The following is according to Rikoon.
• There is a general increase in the amount of food insecure Missourians.
• An increase in the amount of people who are food uncertain with hunger, meaning these people must reduce food intake and/or skip meals.
• The utilization of the SNAP program.
• Rural areas, especially north Missouri, are behind in using the program
• People who are eligible for SNAP in urban counties with various class levels are not using the program because of stigma. “It might be more difficult because you’d have to single yourself our more to the rest of the population,” Rikoon said.
• The local food market movement has prompted people to become small farmers. These small farmers aren’t bringing in a livable salary, but an “emphasis in farmers’ markets, local foods and sustainable agriculture” gives an additional food resource.
• Private sector dependence. More areas are going to food banks and food pantries to help tackle hunger.
• The two highest areas of food uncertainty is in inner city and rural areas.
• What causes an area to be food uncertain.
• High levels of poverty, unemployment rates and single parent households.
• Southwest region of the state fares a bit better than the southeast because of tourism. In the southeast, economically, “there’s not a lot going on,” Rikoon said.
• The boot heel has income inequality. The region is perfect for farming but breaking into a successful farming business can be expensive. There’s a small amount of wealthy landowners in the boot heel sharing a region with a high population of low-income households. “If you’re not farming, you may be able to find a job at a fast food place but you’re still making minimum wage and what happens in the boot heel is you see a fair amount of migration of people moving to places like Memphis.”
• In addition to those who maybe small farmers or eat produce from their own gardens, Rikoon said hunting and fishing is an additional way Missourians find food, which “makes a big difference.”
Suggestions for state policy makers:
• Because food is not the only necessity people must pay for, Rikoon said “safety nets” need to be strong to lessen food insecurity and hunger. “People who are on limited resources, [think about] what do they have to pay for first?” she asks. “Well, they have to pay for their housing and utilities, they have to pay for their healthcare and medicine, they have to pay for their gasoline, and then maybe comes food … Are our safety nets in terms of healthcare and housing in place so that families who have limited resources have income after paying for those things in order to buy food.”
• Reassess Missouri’s minimum wage.
• Because of an increased dependence on the private sector, offer incentives that “enhance the ability of people to donate resources to food banks to build infrastructure like refrigeration so they can take in vegetables and meats and dairies. Also, tax credits help them do as good of job possible,” Rikoon says.
Brittany Ruess was a reporter for The Missouri Times and the SEMO Times, and a graduate of Webster University.