From: The Birmingham News
by Mary Ordnoff
Alabama's "very low food security" rate of 6.8 percent, meaning about 126,480 households were affected, exceeds the national average. Nationally, 5.2 percent, or 6.8 million households, reported very low food security in the past three years.
The category of very low food security means people in the house ate less and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because they lacked money for food, according to the USDA. It most often means there is concern that the food in the house will not last until the next paycheck and they cannot afford to eat balanced meals. It also can mean meals are skipped and children don't get healthy meals.
The statistics are no surprise to Alabama's network of charities and food banks. On Friday morning, for example, the line outside of Greater Birmingham Ministries to receive food was one of the longest yet, said Sarah Price, direct services coordinator.
"Lord have mercy, yes," Price said when asked whether there has been an increase in need. "We'll have to do it again next week before the holiday. People are coming earlier and earlier to get in line."
The report, Household Food Security in the United States 2009, said that, of the 1.86 million households in Alabama, another 8.2 percent had low food security. That is a less severe category that means there was some difficulty providing enough food for everyone in the house but there was no outright hunger. The difference usually involves the frequency and severity of the food shortages.
Together with the 6.8 percent very low food security rate, Alabama's total households with some level of food insecurity is 15 percent.
While Alabama's high poverty rate of 16.6 percent is certainly to blame, the price of food also may be a factor, said Kristina Scott of the Alabama Poverty Project.
"A jar of peanut butter may be the same price in Alabama and Florida, but it's 10 percent more in Alabama because of the sales tax on food," she said.
There is a reason she used the peanut butter example. With children home from school during their holiday breaks, a household will have to provide the meals normally served at school, and peanut butter is a low-cost source of protein, Scott said.
"Fifty-four percent of public school students in Alabama receive free- or reduced-priced lunches, so those families are already stretched to the limit," she said.
Price said all types of food donations are welcome, especially peanut butter and jelly, bread, canned meats and macaroni and cheese.
The USDA report was based on a survey of a limited number of households and has a 1.22 percentage point margin of error for the very low food security estimate, which could affect the state rankings.
A full copy of the report can be found at www.ers.usda.gov.
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