Hunger and Food Security in Middle Tennessee

Access to proper food and nourishment is undoubtedly one of the most basic requirements for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Yet, for many, simple meals are a necessity that often goes unfulfilled. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 50.1 million Americans currently struggle with hunger while 16.7 million children are food insecure. With 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children reported to suffer from hunger in Middle Tennessee, our home is no exception to the harsh reality of hunger and food insecurity.


The Problem

The effects of hunger are widespread, as they negatively alter performance both at work and school. In addition to lacking energy in the workplace, one’s inability to access daily meals often results in unhealthy eating habits by creating a reliance on food that is cheap and easily accessible, but not nutritional. This makes health-conscious lifestyles difficult to maintain in low income areas of Middle Tennessee. Areas that are not within reasonable distance (a half-mile to a mile in an urban area, or 10 miles in a rural area) of a grocery store or supermarket are often referred to as “food deserts.” These food deserts typically have high rates of poverty, as well as high rates of residents with no access to a car, and limited public transportation options. Anita Wadhwani of The Tennessean writes, “What's happening now is that poverty has moved to the suburbs,” said David Padgett, associate professor of geography at Tennessee State University, who has studied Nashville food deserts for the past decade. Those emerging food deserts include suburbs such as north Antioch, Madison and Bellevue. Longtime food deserts persist in inner core neighborhoods such as Edgehill and North Nashville.” Considering that 1 in 5 Nashville residents live under these conditions, it is clear that food deserts create an immediate threat to public health in Middle Tennessee.



Yet, these issues remain difficult to combat, partially because typical descriptions of hunger often make for a poor representation of the hungry. According to Feeding America, most individuals struggling with hunger are not homeless or out of work. In fact, only 5% are homeless and 80% are working. Despite the additional misconception that only uneducated people are hungry, the college-educated also struggle with hunger; 17% of adults interviewed in a study by Feeding America have indicated some college education.

With this in mind, it is clear we have a long way to go when making sure food is made easily accessible to those in Middle Tennessee. Thankfully, many local organizations are providing services to alleviate the issues surrounding hunger.


Current Work

Food banks are one popular resource to fighting hunger not only in Middle Tennessee but around the country. A food bank is a non-profit organization that collects and distributes food to hunger or relief related charities. Here in Nashville, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee works with more than 450 partner agencies throughout their 46-county service area in Middle and West Tennessee to distribute food to 83,000 unique households. All food distributed by Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee is either purchased in bulk, donated via food drives, or rescued from its network of around 200 participating grocery retailers. The food is then distributed via partnerships with more than 450 partner agencies like soup kitchens, food pantries, senior centers, and after-school programs.  Each year, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee distributes 25,330,896 meals to people struggling with hunger.

● Volunteer work is often times necessary to help alleviate hunger, and is also a large part of what allows The Nashville Food Project to find success. The Nashville Food Project strives to provide increased access to healthy foods in homeless and poor working communities in Davidson County. With two catering trucks, a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, a large organic garden, and the hard work of volunteers, it is able to serve approximately 600 meals per week in the Nashville area.  

● While hunger continues to be a problem for many Middle Tennesseans, it is also an issue that does not discriminate by age. FiftyForward enriches the lives of adults 50+ by providing pathways to health, well-being and lifelong learning. Its Meals on Wheels program provides nutritious meals to seniors that are otherwise unable to prepare food for themselves due to health conditions.

Since 2014, all Metro Nashville students, regardless of income and grade, have had access to free school lunches and breakfasts. This has greatly affected levels of hunger among children, guaranteeing a free meal every day. Additionally, free lunches for all removes the stigma often associated with accepting a free meal.


Work to Be Done

According to Feeding America, 57% of the people they serve here are still forced to make decisions between buying food or paying their mortgage. An additional 80% of those choose between food and medical care while 26% choose between food and education. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee CEO, Jaynee Day, reiterates that hunger forces Middle Tennesseans to make decisions no one should. She describes how requests for food go up when the weather grows colder. "People's utility bills will rise in January and that's when people are going to have to make tough decisions, 'Do I pay that high utility bill or do I put food on my table?' And those are decisions nobody in this country should ever have to make."


Ways to Help

Give to local food pantries or provide food gift certificates.

Support Summer Meal Programs for children.

Support Meals on Wheels.

Support community gardens and farming alliances.

When cooking, make an extra portion to share with a neighbor unable to cook for themselves.

Make a gift to a fund at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Become involved in hunger-relief and food security advocacy efforts.

Find a nonprofit organization on that is addressing the problem of hunger and food security.

Find a volunteer opportunity using Hands On Nashville.


Updated 7/22/16 by Matthew Powers and Kathryn Bennett