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Challenging the Stigma of Food Assistance



Photo: Thinkstock.com/XiXinXing


Poverty  is fluid  in the United States. At a moment’s notice, anyone can find themselves in a life-changing situation such as job loss, reduced wages, a disability diagnosis, divorce or natural disaster. It can take just one crisis to push a family over the edge: an injury that makes it impossible to work, a death in the family, a car breaking down or even the birth of a baby. All of these can be traumatic economic events for a family with little or no savings, putting many Americans at risk for food insecurity. 

What is Food Insecurity? 

Imagine how you felt the last time you were hungry. Did you experience headaches or did you become aggravated, impatient, frustrated and intolerable? Now envision yourself walking to your refrigerator to find it empty. You open your wallet to learn you do not have money to buy food for the rest of the month. This is food insecurity. Food insecurity also can occur when a person does not have enough money to buy a variety of foods with high nutritional quality. For example, a family experiencing food insecurity may rely on instant noodles or prepared pancake mix to feed their families breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Unfortunately, many people who qualify for food assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, do not pursue the support they need because of the stigma associated with food assistance. While food insecurity impacts everyone’s health negatively, it is particularly crushing to children. Nourishing foods are critical to a child’s mental, emotional and physical development. 

If we are serious about ending child hunger in the United States and improving our next generation’s health, we must dismantle the stigma associated with food assistance programs. We must shift the way we individually and collectively think and talk about food insecurity in the United States. 


For more information on food insecurity and how Clancy Cash Harrison’s own misconceptions led her to become a food justice advocate, listen to her TEDx Talk on YouTube, below:


If you have participated in a nutrition program such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, or any national school nutrition program, don’t be afraid to talk about how it transformed your life. What if you did not have access to the National School Lunch Program? Would you have done well on your exams, or would you have been too hungry to concentrate? Did food assistance help pave the way to your higher education? Would you be who you are today if you did not have access to school lunch and breakfast? 

Your ability to listen to other people’s stories and share your own success stories will help our nation see food assistance as a hand up, not a hand out. Let’s stop the stigma together and be the change so many children need. 


Clancy Cash Harrison, MS, RDN, FANDClancy Cash Harrison MS, RDN, FAND, is a TEDx speaker, author of Feeding Baby, and food justice advocate. You can find more information at her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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