Updated: Apr 9, 2020
By Tracy Astwood
February 17, 2020
What is food insecurity, how are we experiencing it in Bermuda, and who is experiencing it?
Illustration from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). FIES refers to Food Insecurity Experience Scale as developed by the FAO in determining indicators of Food Insecurity
Understanding food insecurity in Bermuda can be challenging, as Bermuda’s small, relatively affluent community often camouflages what would be traditionally thought of as easily recognizable indicators: malnutrition and hunger. Malnutrition and hunger are stereotypically thought to be a problem for under-developed countries and not first world nations such as Bermuda.
Over the last couple decades though, there has been a move to expand the definition of food insecurity, by the UN, to include more subtle, but equally problematic forms of malnutrition and hunger or food insecurity: lack of consistent access to food, diminished dietary quality and under-nutrition, and disrupted normal eating patterns. These more moderate indicators have negative consequences for proper nutrition, causing many of the health challenges like obesity, diabetes and heart disease that have become so prevalent in Bermuda’s society.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN states, “People experiencing moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food and have been forced to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to lack of money or other resources.”
The FAO finds that the prevalence of moderate food insecurity shows a correlation with obesity and other health implications.
Illustration by Taye Miller, Feeding Nunavet, March 2015
To accelerate progress towards achieving food security and improved nutrition, it is important to fully grasp the connections between moderate food insecurity, overeating and obesity. FAO reports that obesity rates are higher in those countries that have higher income levels. “. . . In upper-middle- and high-income countries, food insecurity increases the likelihood of being overweight or obese and is where moderate food insecurity is higher,” states the FAO, as compared to “the low- and lower-middle-income countries, [where] living in a food-insecure household either decreases the likelihood of being overweight or obese or has a very weak or no association."
So as national economies grow, people facing difficulties in accessing food, an indicator of food insecurity, have a higher risk of obesity and increased health challenges. And while most people would attribute being overweight or obese with wealth, it can often be an indicator that there may be food security challenges that are being overlooked. Given this evidence and the significantly high rates of obesity and obesity related illnesses, it would not be outrageous to state that Bermuda definitely has a food insecurity concern.
The cost of living in Bermuda continues to skyrocket, with the gap between those that “have” and those that “have not” growing wider and wider each year. In fact, many of those who have considered themselves middle class have struggled to keep up with the pace of Bermuda’s cost of living and in particular the rising costs of groceries. In 2019, a single person’s estimated monthly cost of living was $5,000 or more and a family of four had an estimated monthly cost of living of over $8,000. However, according to Bermuda Government Department of Statistics, the median single household income in Bermuda in 2019 is only $4494 per month or $6922 per month for a family of four. Clearly household income does not appear to be keeping pace with these costs.
The fact is, there is evidence that shows that groceries alone have increased by 25% in Bermuda in just the last year. Meat and produce prices continue to force people to choose more highly-processed, less healthy, cheaper foods to feed their families, increasing their risk of becoming food insecure and developing health problems.
Healthy is important, but if you cannot afford to buy healthy food, you have no choice but to buy what you can afford.
A person’s food security is not only affected by one’s personal income or “price gouging” at our local grocery stores, but by climate change, shrinking availability of farmland and the affordability of healthy, organic sustainable food.
Families in Bermuda should never have to worry about where their next affordable, healthy meal is coming from. This problem affects every Bermudian – young, old, those with jobs and those without jobs. With a growing population, economic downturn and shrinking agricultural land, it is essential to come up with solutions to help the average Bermudian have access to healthy food, they can afford.
Greater effort with integrated approaches will help to change this trajectory we are on. Our family has experienced food insecurity first hand and that is why we decided to establish The Harvest Market Bermuda. Our unique socially conscious, low profit business model is attempting to tackle the food insecurity problem in Bermuda head on. We are a family-owned business; established with the belief that everyone should be able to afford and have access to, clean, healthy food at the lowest possible price. Learn more about us at www.harvestmarket.bm.