When you sit down for your big family meal on Christmas Eve (or other religious holiday of your choice), your table groaning with turkey, potatoes, green beans, salads, ham biscuits, gravy boats, cranberries, apple pie and that ossifying fruitcake that Aunt Mable gave you three years ago, you can chow down with a clear conscience. You live in Virginia, the state with the third lowest rate of child “food insecurity” in all the land.
The food insecurity rate for children in Virginia is 16.4% — lower than any state but North Dakota and New Hampshire. That’s all the more remarkable because Virginia, unlike the two aforementioned states, has a large population of African-Americans, who, according to the Feed America food network, are disproportionately more likely to experience food insecurity.
Feeding America, a national network of food banks, defines “food insecurity” as lack of access to nutritionally healthy foods or to enough food to pursue an active health life. Food-insecure children are those living in households experiencing food insecurity.
The federal poverty threshold is the indicator usually used to identify households with food insecurity. But 59% of food-insecure families are above the poverty level while 58% of poor families are not food insecure at all. Food America provides a more fine-grained analysis to help members missions at the community level. The data in these maps incorporate child poverty rates, unemployment rates, median income for families with children and the percentage of African-American children and Hispanic children, among other sources.
Bacon’s bottom line: So, how do we explain Virginia’s relative food abundance? To be sure, the Old Dominion has a high median income, seventh highest among all the states. But that income is not evenly distributed. Northern Virginia is especially well off, while inner cities and sprawling rural hinterlands fare poorly. Yet you can see from the map below that an exceptionally low rate of food insecurity runs throughout Virginia’s urban crescent. And even non-metropolitan counties tend to experience less food insecurity than their counterparts in neighboring states.
Here’s my hypothesis. Virginia has, and has had for decades, a lower unemployment rate than the national average. That reflects a policy mix that encourages business job creation and limits incentives for people to stay on the dole. As a consequence, the Old Dominion also has one of the nation’s lowest poverty rates. Virginians are more self sufficient overall, and we have a smaller dependency class.
That said, a child food-insecurity rate of 16.4% is still too high. One of the best donations you can make this holiday season is to your community food bank or to your church (synagogue, mosque, temple, sacred grove of the moon goddess, whatever) soup kitchen.