The pandemic has made it even harder for one in three Americans to obtain healthy, affordable food

Our poll results demonstrate how the pandemic has transformed many Americans’ lives and behaviors in complex and interconnected ways.

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SOURCEThe Conversation
The Conversation, CC BY-ND

COVID-19 has made food access more challenging for many communities. In Michigan State University’s Fall 2021 Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, 31% of the people we talked to said the pandemic had affected their household’s ability to obtain food. This included 28% of households earning less than $25,000, and 38% of those earning more than $75,000 annually.

We surveyed 2,002 representative Americans between Aug. 27 and Sept. 1, 2021, to explore how the pandemic influenced the food landscape and shaped people’s food resources, choices and diet.

Millions of Americans left the workforce during the pandemic, so it may not be surprising that 53% of those with limited food access reported having fewer financial resources than they did before then. To make matters worse, food and gasoline prices surged during the same period. This made decisions about where and how to spend fewer dollars even more challenging for families already struggling to make ends meet.

Rising food insecurity

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as having limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Households with low food security have trouble affording enough food and eating balanced diets.

In 2018, the department estimated that over 37 million Americans were food insecure. By December 2020 that figure had risen to 38.3 million people, or 10.5% of U.S. households.

Among the subset of our survey respondents who reported that financial constraints limited their food access, 74% said they chose different brands of food in response. Nearly half (47%) consumed less food, and 31% received support from government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One in 6 (17%) reported visiting food banks more often.

Money wasn’t the only factor. Among respondents who experienced limited food access, 37% said they did not feel comfortable shopping at the grocery store, and 32% reported not having reliable transportation. It is likely that the risk of illness led many people to avoid public transportation or ride sharing to limit their chance of exposure to disease.

Regardless of financial constraints, 50% of respondents said the pandemic has changed the way they purchase and store food. Among that group, 51% now look for food with a long shelf life, 50% are storing more food at home and 48% are taking fewer trips to the grocery store. Aside from concerns about the virus itself, these trends may be associated with uncertainty, speculation and highly publicized supply chain disruptions.

More food awareness

The pandemic has also led some Americans to focus more on what does not get eaten. One in 4 of our respondents (27%) said they were paying more attention to food waste. Given that food waste globally accounts for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that the U.S. wastes between 30% and 40% of its food supply while 6.1 million U.S. children currently live in food-insecure households, reducing food waste has the potential to address multiple challenges at the same time.

At the time of our survey, 69% of respondents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine. Among those vaccinated, 67% reported visiting the grocery more often after receiving their first shot. Similarly, 33% spent more time in the grocery store after getting vaccinated, and 29% reported that they could more easily transport and access groceries. Only 15% of vaccinated respondents had stopped wearing masks where they were not required.

Our poll results demonstrate how the pandemic has transformed many Americans’ lives and behaviors in complex and interconnected ways. While these changes may not be permanent, we can predict that Americans’ food access and choices will undoubtedly continue to shift, along with the state of the pandemic.The Conversation

Sheril Kirshenbaum, Associate Research Scientist, Michigan State University and Douglas Buhler, Director of AgBioResearch and Assistant Vice President of Research and Innovation, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Sheril Kirshenbaum hosts "Our Table" at Michigan State University, an initiative to help consumers make more informed choices about food. She also currently hosts the YouTube series, Serving Up Science, and the WKAR show by the same name. Sheril co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney and wrote The Science of Kissing, which explores the science behind one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also blogs at Scientific American. Sheril's writing appears in publications such as Bloomberg and CNN frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to parenthood. Her work has also been published in scientific journals including Science and Nature and she is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. Sheril is executive director of Science Debate, a nonprofit nonpartisan initiative to restore science to its rightful place in politics. She works to enhance public understanding of science and improve communication between scientists, policymakers and the public. Sheril has been a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar; a Marshall Memorial Fellow, a legislative NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in the U.S. Senate and a Next Generation Fellow through the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law. She speaks internationally about science communication and has appeared as a thought leader at events like TEDGlobal and Ciudad de las Ideas. Previously, Sheril served as director of the University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll. She also worked with the Webber Energy Group at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Sheril has been a visiting scholar with The Pimm Group, a fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. As Director/Assistant VP, Douglas Buhler serves as the administrative leader of MSU AgBioResearch, a group of more than 350 researchers from seven MSU colleges—and has a network of 13 research centers across the state and a total annual budget of over $130M per year. MSU AgBioResearch engages research that combines scientific expertise with practical experience to generate economic prosperity, sustain natural resources and enhances the quality of life. Buhler is a native of Wisconsin and received his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Nebraska. He at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1984 to 1989 and with United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service from 1989 to 2000. He joined Michigan State University as Professor and Chair of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and served in that position from 2000 to 2005. From 2005 to 2010 he was Associate Director of the MSU AgBioResearch and Associate Dean for Research for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Buhler served as interim Dean of the CANR from 2011 to 2013 and again in 2016. Buhler's professional activities have generated over 330 publications including 130 refereed journal and review articles. Buhler has been an author or editor of three books and presented over 100 invited seminars, symposia, and workshops. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Weed Science Society of America, and North Central Weed Science Society and is a Distinguished Alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Buhler serves on numerous boards and advisory panels including the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Center for Food Integrity, Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Commission, and Michigan Crop Improvement Association.

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