Nutrition: Henstenburg explains hunger and food insecurity


Dr. Jule Anne Henstenburg has been Director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition at La Salle since the start of the Program in 1999 and was Founding Director of La Salle’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics in 2003. Her research interests focus on the use of qualitative methods for the study of food access in low income, urban neighborhoods.

A food desert, which is what Germantown was before Fresh Grocer and Bottom Dollar Foods opened, is an area where fresh healthy food is not readily available.

Henstenburg explained how nutritionists are more and more in school systems and supermarkets in various areas, helping people in the community make healthier food choices.

“People who eat more fruit and vegetables are much healthier,” said Henstenburg.

“The first step is to give communities access to better foods. There is a big push to build supermarkets in food desert areas. The area around La Salle was previously considered a food desert. Now they have better access.”

The issue is centered food security and hunger.

What is food security?
“The definition involves people having physical and economic status to food… whether or not you can bring enough food into the house to feed your family comfortably and in a culturally appropriate way,” said Henstenburg.

Thus, food insecurity is when people do not have economic or physical access to food; people cannot meet their daily food needs.

This leads to culturally inappropriate ways to get food, such as “dumpster diving” for left over food or stealing. Hunger goes together with food insecurity; hunger is a physiologic issue, the feeling of painful sensations from lack of food.

“In my personal opinion as a nutritionist, this is a big problem,” said Henstenburg.

“We are not doing enough for people, they don’t know how to eat; the fact of the matter is, there are some people who are interested no doubt, but it’s one person at a time learning this stuff. It takes a lot of energy to eat right.”

It’s not that our government does not try. As a result of the Great Depression, the FOOD STAMPS Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) started in the 1930s. The Farm Bill is also a massive piece of legislation that deals with farming in the United States. However, the problem is in the amount of benefits people receive through the SNAP program.

The average SNAP benefit for people in the United States (4 person family) gets $32/month (dropped since November 2013).
“It’s enough to buy milk and bread for the month. It gets us into why it’s hard to buy fruits and vegetables. It’s a matter of asking, how can we best spend these food dollars?”

Lack of access is the primary cause, but a solution that has come up frequently is that people need to make more money or there needs to be cheaper healthy produce. If the minimum wage is raised to ten dollars, it will give people the ability to afford healthy food, health care, and proper living.

Another solution is to support local farmers. Henstenburg said that Farmer’s Markets are very popular in finding good quality, fresh produce.

“It’s a small step that can take us really far,” said Henstenburg.


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