Leslie Argueta is a 21-year-old first-generation college student at Goodwin University who plans to work with children and families in need. It’s a profession for which her own life experience has prepared her. When Argueta was 3, she emigrated from El Salvador with her family, settling in East Hartford. In Argueta’s first year of college, a car accident left her mother unable to work for a year, forcing the young college student to divide her time between her studies and hospital visits. “Me and my brother had to provide a little bit more for our family,” Argueta said.
An abundance of healthy selections. Clearly marked nutrition labeling. The ability to pre-order. Fresh produce and meat. The 364,040 people in Connecticut who face hunger—one in every 10 residents—are increasingly likely to find these and other grocery store-like features at their local food pantries.
In cities throughout Connecticut, urban farms and community gardens are sprouting up to address a significant health challenge: Many people don’t have access to enough food or access to healthy food. About 13% of Connecticut residents said they did not have enough money to pay for food at least once in the previous year, according to the most recent Community Wellbeing Survey conducted by DataHaven in 2018. Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to struggle, with 23% and 28%, respectively, reporting food insecurity. In several cities, about a quarter of all residents struggle to pay for food. Urban residents are also less likely to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the survey.
People struggling with hunger suffer from a disproportionate number of chronic illnesses and often rely on food pantries for their groceries. So, pantries are now being urged to undergo a sea change and abandon their traditional emphasis on calories and nonperishable items in favor of more nutritional food. In Connecticut, 440,000 people are food insecure, which means they have limited or uncertain access to sufficient nutritious food, according to 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the latest available. They comprise 12.2 percent of the state’s population.People with food insecurity are 25 percent more likely to have heart disease and diabetes, and 50 percent more likely to have kidney disease, cites Feeding America, a national food bank network. “These issues can be prevented or managed better with a proper diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains,” said Michelle Lapine McCabe, director of the Center for Food Equity and Economic Development, based in Bridgeport.
In stark contrast to the general financial well-being of Connecticut residents, the state is in a hunger crisis that is negatively impacting children, primarily in urban areas. The most recent data from Feeding America shows that in 2016, 11.6 percent of the total Connecticut population was living with food insecurity, and of that percentage, 15.6 percent were children. According to the parameters set at the World Food Summit in 1996, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
While food security may be something most Connecticut residents take for granted, a significant portion of the Connecticut population wonders every day where their next meal will come from. The impact of this issue is especially concerning when considering how it is affecting children. The 2018 report on Child Food Insecurity by Feeding America states that struggling with food insecurity puts children at a greater risk for “stunted development, anemia and asthma, oral health problems and hospitalization.”