“Just because rural communities are surrounded by fields of corn
and soybeans, it doesn’t mean residents can walk by and eat it.
It’s not available in that sense. It would be like saying that
people living in Silicon Valley must have really great cell
phones or that cars are cheaper in Detroit,” says University of
Illinois economist Craig Gundersen who studies food insecurity.
“We find that food insecurity exists in rural areas just like it
does in urban areas.”
Gundersen’s recent research on the subject sheds some light on
hunger-relief efforts in rural America. According to his
research, Feeding America has a substantial presence in rural
communities, providing food assistance through member food banks
and the food pantries with which they partner.
“There has been a perception that food pantries are mainly
located in urban settings, while rural communities are isolated
places where food assistance is not being provided to people in
need. We didn’t find that to be true. In fact, we find that,
based on certain measures, food banks are doing a great job at
reaching rural areas,” Gundersen says.
This research combined data from two of Feeding America’s
studies: county-level food-insecurity rates from Map the Meal
Gap, and information about the programs that provide charitable
food assistance across the country from Hunger in America.
“Due to the work of Map the Meal Gap, many food banks have
become more cognizant of needs in their area and have been
reaching out to fill the need. Hunger in America helps tell the
story of that reach. They’ve been doing a lot of novel things
with mobile food pantries, for example,” he says.
Does this report mean we can sit back and relax knowing that
people in rural America are getting what they need? Gundersen
says, “No.” Meeting the need is not as easy as simply making
food available, especially in rural areas where long distances
and transportation barriers can keep some from accessing such
services. He also stresses the continued need for the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known
as the Food Stamp Program).
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“This is still an urgent situation. The most critical
social safety net against hunger in the United States continues to
be SNAP. We need to maintain its effectiveness. Another key
component of our safety net is the work done by Feeding America.
They have a limited amount of food and face challenges. We did this
study to better understand the need in rural counties and the extent
to which services are offered in rural areas.
“Federal programs like SNAP and charitable programs
like those operated across the Feeding America network provide
critical resources to food-insecure people in rural areas,”
Gundersen says, “Despite this, the social and economic conditions in
these areas have not improved as much as they have in other parts of
the country. If they were, we wouldn’t have, by the most recent
count, more than 42 million people who are food insecure
The study, “Food
insecurity across the rural-urban divide: Are counties in need being
reached by charitable food assistance?”
is written by Craig Gundersen, Adam Dewey, Monica Hake, Emily
Engelhard, and Amy S. Crumbaugh. It is published in The Annals of
the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural
Strategy and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and
Environmental Sciences Department of Agricultural and Consumer
Economics at the University of Illinois.
[Debra Levey Larson
University of Illinois
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences]