FOOD CHOICES FOR A HEALTHY PLANET

Food and Culture

EXPLAINED

Introduction

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LOOKING AT THE FOOD CHOICES people are making around the world is an important way to better understand diverse food cultures.

This is because each population has their own dynamic and diverse food culture patterns. These patterns reflect what each population understands as ‘food’, how they are producing foods, where they are buying foods, what kind of food they prefer to buy, which dishes they are having for meals, and with whom they are sharing meals.

In other words, even if the acts of eating and cooking are common behaviours to people around the world, people eat and cook differently around the world. This means that our food choices are contextualized and are based on our food cultures.

Marie Persson
Project Officer
NORDIC FOOD POLICY LAB

The Nordic diet is made up of potatoes, root vegetables, fish and shellfish, meat, berries, fruits (such as apples and pears). While inspired by global influences, the modern Nordic food culture has in the past decade seen somewhat of a revival in the use of traditional ingredients and preservation techniques. The New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto was launched in 2004 by a group of chefs and included 10 basic principles. The modern New Nordic diet it described was predominantly plant-based and locally sourced, and the manifesto principles encouraged more sustainable production. A renewed sense of pride in old varieties of grains and vegetables as well as traditional preservation techniques such as drying, fermenting, smoking, salting and pickling reentered the food vocabulary in the Nordics. For more than a decade now, modern dishes have been invented using traditional foods and methods of preparation that add both culinary and economic value to our raw materials.

Building on the momentum created by the manifesto, new food policies and food culture projects have been implemented all around the Nordic region. In this way, the food culture change that started in the gastronomy sector has spread to school canteens, workplaces and to home-cooks. In 2018, the WHO launched a high-profile report showing that the New Nordic diet is as healthy and sustainable as the Mediterranean diet. Compared to an average Western diet, the new Nordic diet contains less sugar and fat but twice the fiber and seafood.

In a continued evolution of the Nordic food culture, arguments around environmental, climate, health and animal welfare impacts of diets are taking center stage in the debate around food, and there is a growing movement towards more plant-based diets.

Siti Halati
Nutrition Officer
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME

Even though Indonesia is rich in traditional cuisine with a variety of foods and dishes, many Indonesians welcome imported, processed foods such as deep-fried chicken, nuggets, burgers, sausages. Since 1980, many fast-food restaurants that serve imported, processed foods have opened in Indonesia. In the beginning, they were only available in a few big cities, but by now they are in almost every urban area of each province.

People who consume the imported, processed food are mainly the middle and the upper class, not the poor. Most of the young people like these foods, while older people still prefer traditional Indonesian dishes.

The consumption of traditional Indonesian foods and cultural dishes of urban people in Indonesia is reducing, especially among the young people. They are shifting to the imported, processed foods that represent a lifestyle that is promoted by fast-food chains and other branding activities. Also, nowadays, the imported, processed food served in the fast-food restaurants is more affordable than the food from outlets that serve traditional Indonesian dishes, except when sold by street vendors, but eating there is less aspirational to young urban residents.

It is also becoming more common for households in urban areas to prepare meals for their children with imported, processed foods such as chicken nuggets, fish sticks and sausages.

On the contrary to the urban area, people in the rural area are still preparing traditional Indonesian dishes for their meals, due to less exposure to imported, processed foods, less availability, and lower purchasing power.

Anne Palmer
Program Director, Food Communities & Public Health
JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR A LIVABLE FUTURE

“We know that placing supermarkets in a neighborhood without one can attract other retail, provide jobs for residents, and even change people’s perceptions of food access in their community. We also know that most people shop outside of their neighborhood for food and don’t change what they are purchasing even if they change shopping venues. Therefore, opening a new store alone is unlikely to have an impact on a shopper’s diet. What causes people to change their food purchasing patterns or to have healthier purchasing behaviors? The most evident factor in changing purchasing is an increase in income. People with more formal education and more nutritional knowledge will also make healthier purchases. If we want to improve diets, we need to look at all the factors that are related to poor eating habits and work on them simultaneously.”

Alessandro Demaio
CEO of VicHealth
VICTORIAN HEALTH PROMOTION FOUNDATION

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Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company.

Brazilian Dietary Guidelines 

In an industrialised and fast paced world, the food we eat and how we eat is increasingly being driven by convenience, perpetuated by pervasive marketing of unhealthy ultra-processed foods, ready-made foods and meal delivery services. No longer do we place the same value on preparing and cooking a nourishing meal from scratch – and with this has also been lost opportunities for social connection.

Brazil’s dietary guidelines take a simple approach to food and nutrition, and prompt us to slow down and enjoy foods, with others, that are respectful of the environment. Taking what was a complex narrative of nutrient measurements and creating a set of food principles that are more accessible, more intuitive, and more holistic. The guidelines prompt us to consider food in the context of family, society and environmental sustainability, and its principles intend to shift food cultures and our food ways. The way we eat and who we eat with are given equal importance to what we eat, recognising that food and the social practices that surround food are powerful opportunities that have the potential to nourish and connect people.

Brazil’s guideline’s golden rule is something that we should all aspire to – always prefer natural or minimally processed foods and freshly made dishes and meals to ultra-processed foods.

Carlo Fadda
Research Director, Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture
BIODIVERSITYINTERNATIONAL.ORG

Eating indigenous food addresses many issues related to food system’s impact on climate, environment, biodiversity and health. Indigenous food is produced locally and consumed locally, thus it reduces the environmental cost of transport. Indigenous food is adapted to local conditions and prevalent pests and diseases; thus, it requires limited use of fertilizers and application of pesticides limiting GHG emissions and environmental pollution. This is particularly true for local varieties of major crops, such as maize, rice and wheat, which will also be better conserved if they are used more. Indigenous food is diverse and generally nutritious, particularly local fruits, nuts, pulses and vegetables. Considering that malnutrition is largely related to low consumption of fruits and vegetables, eating more of this food types can reduce the incidence of malnutrition and save lives. Eating indigenous food can protect biodiversity: out of 7,000 species humanity could consume, 15 species provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake, and three, rice, maize and wheat, provide 66% of the total energy. Thus, eating more indigenous food means incentive to use more species in production systems. Eating indigenous food can provide incentives for farming communities to diversify their production systems, making them more resilient to climate change and more ecologically sound, attracting more birds and insect species, thus contributing to biodiversity conservation and provision of ecosystem services. Eating indigenous food provides a different gastronomic experience, giving you pleasure which can improve wellbeing and support the livelihood of local communities.

Alison Blay-Palmer
Chair in Food Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies
UNESCO

Eating locally connects me to my local food system in so many wonderful ways. I know more about the people who grow my food, and sometimes I meet them myself. I have access to fresher food and I know how it is grown or produced. Buying local food lets me support famers who are in my food community and keep money close to home. It also let’s me help the environment as I can buY food from people who grow or make things that tread as lightly as possible on the planet so we have better soil and more biodiversity. Local food let’s me do something immediate to help the world, so that gives me a concrete thing to do in this time of so many pressures.

Lana Vanderlee
Postdoctoral Fellow – School of Public Health and Health Systems
UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO, CA

There are many ways that food marketing influences dietary choice, particularly among young people. The amount of food marketing we are exposed to is substanial: that children and adolescents are exposed to is substanial: in 2016, the US food industry spent somewhere around $13.5 billion dollars advertising food across all forms of media. This translates into a huge amount of exposure to advertising – in the US, children are exposed to around 10-11 food ads per day, which means they see several thousand ads promoting less healthy food choices per year. Children are particularly vulnerable to promotions and advertisements, as they are not able to understand and process the persuasive messaging that is present in most food advertising. Research has shown us that advertising for less healthy food increase childrens’ preferences for these foods, and also increases childrens’ requests to purchase food items – known as ‘pester power’ – that ultimately influences parents’ food purchases. Marketing works, and protecting children from unhealthy food messaging now is a priority identified by the World Health Organization and others to help improve dietary choices and create a healthier food environment for everyone.

Julia Wolfson
Assistant Professor,  Health Management and Policy
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

Cooking meals at home, particularly from scratch or less processed ingredients, is associated with lower overall energy intake, greater fruit and vegetable consumption, and better diet quality. As the food environment has become dominated with fast food and highly processed, energy dense options, cooking meals at home has become a key recommendation for healthy eating. But, for many people, cooking healthy meals on a daily basis is difficult given the busy lives we lead today. And, cooking is a very complex behavior that encompasses multiple, interrelated skills and capacities including planning, budgeting, time management, organizational skills, perceptual skills, and technical cooking skills. It is, therefore, important to develop the skills and capacities to prepare meals that do not rely on highly processed ingredients; doing so can have benefits for diet quality, diet related health outcomes such as diabetes, and depending on what foods people cook (e.g. plant based meals), potentially for the health of the planet as well.

Jess Haines
Dietitian and Associate Professor of Nutrition
UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH, CANADA

Balancing paid work, household work, and parenting responsibilities is a challenge for many families across the globe. And this challenge of balancing work with family and other life commitments has been shown to influence our food choices. A study of over 3700 parents found that parents who report higher conflict between work and family commitments report fewer family meals and higher intake of fast food as compared to parents with lower work-family conflict. Lack of time is one of the most commonly reported barriers to choosing healthful foods and is associated with higher intakes of fast food as well as convenience or prepared meals. Policy approaches to provide greater flexibility over work hours and location as well improved childcare access and affordability, including before and after school care, could ease parents’ struggle of balancing work and family, which could improve the overall wellbeing of families while also improving their food choices.

Olivia Weinstein
Culinary Nutrition Director
BMC TEACHING KITCHEN

Joyce Slater
Associate Professor
UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA

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1- Statistics Canada. Table 11-10-0125-01 Detailed food spending, Canada, regions and provinces DOI

2- USDA Economic Research Service, Food Expenditure Series. 

3- North American Initiatives on Food and Organic Waste. 2018. Characterization and Management of Food Loss and Waste in North America – White Paper

OLIVIA WEINSTEN: I think it’s because people want life to be frictionless – or as frictionless as possible. We strive for automation in our lives to minimize the effort and cognition needed to complete daily tasks. Our phone wakes us up in the morning, navigates us through our commitments, and delivers us food at the end of a long day with a swipe. Cooking, on the other hand, creates friction. It takes time, effort and thought– the antithesis of society’s efforts to automate. So when we swipe for food, we reduce that friction and feel satisfied by convenience. In short, cooking creates friction. Meal delivery does not.

JOYCE SLATER: Food skills are critical to healthy eating, as people with adequate cooking and shopping skills tend to have better diets, which lead to better overall health. However, ever-expanding markets of ultra-processed foods, fast food and app-based meal delivery make developing food skills, like cooking with less-processed ingredients, seem unnecessary. Further, many children are not learning sufficient food skills at home, or at school where programs such as home economics have been eroded in recent decades. In Canada 30% of food expenditures are made from restaurantsIn the United States, almost 50% of food expenditures are on food “away from home”. Lack of food skills also contributes to food waste: Canadian and American consumers throw out about 180 kg of food year each!* Cooking should be considered an essential life skill, social skill, and health promotion strategy. Taking time to plan meals, learn some healthy recipes, and teach our kids these skills is time well-invested. It will save money, the planet and your health!

Judith Kyst
Director Food Culture
MADKULTUREN

There are several and considerable benefits of families eating together. In general, when we eat together, the food we eat is healthier and it taste better and eating together have a positive influence on our well-being. This counts for family meals as well. Studies show that children from families who often eat together will eat more fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. Children from families who eat together less often will drink more sweet drinks, eat more unhealthy snacks and more high-fat foods. There can be different explanations for these benefits. Some point out that eating together involves a more stringent social regulation of the type and quantity of food eaten. Others that eating together is an occasion for exchanging norms and attitudes in general and to speak about what we eat and why we eat it. Eating together as families serves other purposes as well. For many families, the family meal is a recurrent, recognizable, structuring and socializing event with formative and educative functions. To many, the family meal thus become a key element in building and maintaining the family. The family meal helps organizing the day and family meals influence both mental and physical health, as eating together creates stronger family ties and a stronger sense of belonging. Eating homecooked meals together as a family is also the most widespread ideal for meals in Denmark. However, lack of time and energy in everyday life can be an obstacle for the homecooked family meal. One way of overcoming this might be to involve and engage the children in the cooking.

Jamie Harding
GIS Specialist, Food Communities and Public Health
JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR A LIVEABLE FUTURE

The retail environment is made up of a complex set of physical, economic, social, and cultural factors that influence where we shop for food and what kinds of food we purchase and eat. Some of these factors include proximity to food, affordability of food, available food options, marketing and advertising, government policies, cultural norms, and market forces. The retail environment, however, is only part of the equation. Individual and household income, education, and preferences also factor into the decisions we make about what food to buy.

Lauren McIntyre
Research Uptake Manager
IMMANA

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References:

Turner, C., Kalamatianou, S., Drewnowski, A., Kulkarni, B., Kinra, S., & Kadiyala, S. (2020).

Food environment research in low-and middle-income countries: a systematic scoping review. Advances in Nutrition, 11(2), 387-397.

Pehlke, E. L., Letona, P., Hurley, K., & Gittelsohn, J. (205). Guatemalan school food environment: impact on schoolchildren’s risk of both undernutrition and overweight/obesity. Health promotion international, 31(3), 542-550.

Downs, S. M., Thow, A. M., Ghosh-Jerath, S., & Leeder, S. R. (2014). Developing interventions to reduce consumption of unhealthy fat in the food retail environment: a case study of India. Journal of hunger & environmental nutrition, 9(2), 210-229.

Hawkes, C. (2005). The role of foreign direct investment in the nutrition transition. Public health nutrition, 8(4), 357-365.

Popkin, B. M. (2014). Synthesis and implications: C hina’s nutrition transition in the context of changes across other low‐and middle‐income countries. Obesity reviews, 15, 60-67.

Pries, A. M., Filteau, S., & Ferguson, E. L. (2019). Snack food and beverage consumption and young child nutrition in low‐and middle‐income countries: A systematic review. Maternal & child nutrition, 15, e12729.

Green, M., Hadihardjono, D. N., Pries, A. M., Izwardy, D., Zehner, E., & Huffman, S. L. (2019). High proportions of children under 3 years of age consume commercially produced snack foods and sugar‐sweetened beverages in Bandung City, Indonesia. Maternal & child nutrition, 15, e12764.

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Changing food environments, in the context of globalization, increased time pressures and unaffordability of nutritious foods, are driving demand for quick, convenient foods to procure, prepare and consume , . Recent decades have seen the increasing commercially produced snack foods in LMICs . Foreign direct investment (FDI) has mechanised international food businesses to enter these new markets . Whilst many of the favoured snacks in LMICs (such as fruit) are healthier than those dominant in MEDCs, high sugar, salty and fatty snacks are increasingly consumed . Energy-rich, micronutrient‐poor snack foods consumed early in life can displace more nutritious foods, including breast milk . Over consumption of unhealthy snacks presents a substantial risk of micronutrient dilution, which is contributing to all forms of malnutrition in LMICs . Where readily available and affordable, unhealthy snacks are seen as a desirable and convenient source of calories . Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to aggressive marketing, during a dynamic period of growth and development which determines their health outcomes as adults . Food companies target under 20s online, through web pages and social media . Schools providing access to sugary, high-fat snacks and beverages , and restaurants providing an appealing social environment for young people may also be contributing to the rising intake of snack foods.

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Gupta, V., Downs, S., Ghosh-Jerath, S., Lock, K., Singh, A. (2016) Unhealthy Fat in Street and Snack Foods in Low-Socioeconomic Settings in India: A Case Study of the Food Environments of Rural Villages and an Urban Slum, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, 48, 4, 269–279.

Ochola, S., & Masibo, P. K. (2014). Dietary intake of schoolchildren and adolescents in developing countries. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 64(Suppl. 2), 24-40.

PAREKH, N., JUUL, F., & KIRCHNER, T. R. (2019). The evolution and spread of industrial food: Building youth resilience through food and media literacy. UNSCN NUTRITION, 99.

Azeredo, C. M., de Rezende, L. F. M., Canella, D. S., Claro, R. M., Peres, M. F. T., do Carmo Luiz, O., … & Levy, R. B. (2016). Food environments in schools and in the immediate vicinity are associated with unhealthy food consumption among Brazilian adolescents. Preventive medicine, 88, 73-79.

Keats, E. C., Rappaport, A. I., Shah, S., Oh, C., Jain, R., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2018). The dietary intake and practices of adolescent girls in low-and middle-income countries: A systematic review. Nutrients, 10(12), 1978.

Lisa Feldman
Director of Culinary Services
SODEXO

The short answer to why there is only fast food in underserved urban communities can be traced back to President Lyndon Johnson, who in the wake of the Watts Riots in 1965, sent the Small Business Administration to investigate the economic root cause. The SBA, along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, chose to focus on fostering minority entrepreneurship to drive local employment and morale. Unfortunately, the outlet for the funding attached to this initiative was fast food franchises. And while providing an outlet for local minority-owned business and employment, it did major damage to the dietary patterns in those neighborhoods. Coupled with major marketing dollars aimed at urban populations to keep sales up, cracking the code to healthier options is almost impossible. The only way to incentivize healthier options is to literally incentivize the restaurants selling food in those neighborhoods to serve something healthier. Operating a restaurant leads to small profit margins. R&D is expensive and no organization is willing to put lots of capitol into a new menu offer that isn’t reasonably guaranteed to succeed. Providing the funding to dive into marketing in these areas, create healthier options that are culturally relevant to the local population, and then do targeted marketing within those communities is the only way to create systemic change.

Felipe Frangione
Latam Regional Executive Chef working for Compass
FOOD+ BY COMPASS

The “PF” is commonly known as “the workers meal” and it is a full balanced meal to nourish you through the day as it is composed of: 1 portion of grains (white rice), 1 portion of pulse (beans), 1 portion of vegetable (salad green with tomato and onion), 1 portion of animal protein (beef steak). All of these elements are featured at the same time representing 1/4 each of the plate (although the ratio can vary depending the region, but ingredients and categories do not change). The “PF” could be healthier and more sustainable if Chefs start looking at this common and well known dish with the same mindset used at high end meals, aiming not to standardize but approach it from a seasonal and local perspective, introducing more variety for Brazilians on a daily basis, naturally balancing ingredient costs by leveraging local economy and buying more from family and small producers. The outcome would be an amazing increase in nutritional facts and flavor as selected ingredients would be at the peak of the flavor and nutrients.

Carla Martins
Professor, School of Public Health
UNIVERSITY OF SÃO PAULO

The Brazilian school-feeding program (In Portuguese: Programa de Nacional de Alimentação do Escolar – PNAE) has been a great ally to achieve fairer, healthier and more sustainable food systems because it combines a public policy to guarantee healthy and sustainable eating at school and, at the same time, a strategy to value and protect the family farmers work. Protected by the law, the acquisition of foods to prepare the menus of every public school in Brazil needs to be, at least, 30% produced by the family farmers (preferable, organic farmers). This strategy has being a strong initiative to protect the local food systems, to promote population’s health and to provide nutritional education by school’s meals.

John Peterson
Founder
ANGELIC ORGANICS

When you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm, you are entering into a deep relationship to the earth through the fresh local nutritious food that you receive. To join, you purchase a “share” of the summer’s harvest, thus becoming a shareholder. You then receive a weekly box (or every-other-week box) of the freshest, seasonal produce during the harvest season. (There are many variations on the CSA model today—exclusively vegetables; vegetables and other foods such as meat and dairy, sometimes referred to as full diet CSA; customized shares; non-customized shares; pre-pay for your share or pay over time, etc.) Your food will reside in a richer context than if you simply buy it from a store; it comes from a farm of which you are a part. As your food grows, it experiences weather that you learn about from your farmer. It grows in soil on your farm that you can visit. You not only experience your food more fully when you join a CSA; you experience the earth more fully, because you are now a part of a farm. Fresh and local are great attributes of food, but being aware of the journey that your food takes from seed to table will make the experience of your food even richer.

Jessica Hager
Director, Healthcare Partnerships & Nutrition
FEEDING AMERICA

Through a network of 200 food banks that reach every county in the United States, Feeding America is providing food assistance to more than 40 million people each year. A food bank is a non-profit organization that collects and distributes food to hunger-relief charities. Food banks accept, sort and store large format donations which are broken down for distribution through smaller front line agencies. While some food banks offer direct service programs, they usually do not themselves give out food directly to people struggling with hunger. Food banks partner with food pantries, meal programs, shelters, and operate their own food distribution programs to provide nourishment to families, individuals, children and seniors.

Food banks in the U.S. and across the world are very diverse – from small operations serving people spread out across large rural areas to very large facilities that store and distribute many millions of pounds of food each year, and everything in between. A variety of factors impact how food banks work, from the size of the facility to the number of staff members. But, one thing all food banks have in common is that they rely on donors and volunteers to carry out their day-to-day operations.

Food banks may also offer other services or serve as a central hub for referrals to other services such as federal nutrition assistance programs, job skills training, financial literacy programs, after-school programs or health care referrals. They also raise awareness about hunger in their communities and work with elected officials to support policies that help people facing hunger.

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Learn more about local food insecurity by exploring data from Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study.

Karen Bassarab
Senior Program Officer – Food Communities and Public Health
JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR A LIVABLE FUTURE

Improving access to healthy food for a large portion of Americans is a complicated problem due to the interrelationship between accessibility, affordability and availability. These three A’s are central to a web of factors that further complicate the issue. Factor, like the quality, type and seasonality of available food; the availability of foods that are culturally-acceptable or meet dietary needs; the cleanliness, safety, hospitality and hours of operation of food retailers; individual taste; the modes of transportation available to get to a food retailer; the household income and cost of living of a person; the race or ethnicity of a person, and where a person lives. Improving access to healthy food by looking at only one factor is an ineffectual long-term solution.

That, however, is how we use policy to improve food access: piecemeal. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest and most effective US program to address food insecurity and yet, the program mostly only solves one problem, the affordability of food. SNAP provides an immediate solution but does not address the underlying reasons for why families cannot afford food or why healthy food costs more than highly processed foods. We need a new approach to policy that puts the needs of the people with the greatest hardship in accessing healthy food at the center of the solution. We need an approach that starts with honoring the dignity and well-being of people. We need an approach that is flexible and yet comprehensive to recognize that the interrelationship of factors that impact food access vary by place.

Bryndís Eva Birgisdóttir
Professor
UNIVERSITY OF ICELAND

The measures have been different, but the Nordic countries, mainly with the support from the Nordic Council of Ministers, have also worked together on many solutions and their action plans on nutrition bear similarities. The Nordic Dietary Recommendations, form in part, the basis of Nordic Nutrient Recommendations as well as Food Based Dietary Guidelines in all the Nordic countries. These are very similar, recommending plant based healthy whole foods for improved public health, with focus on Nordic Food. The guidelines are aimed at the general population, but are also in use in governmental institutions where food is offered, such as in kindergartens and schools and elderly care. The Nordic countries have also worked together towards the Keyhole, a simple front of packaging nutritional label, put on products adhering to a certain nutritional standard. Through other Nordic projects, such as the New Nordic Food project, an approach toward local sustainable nutritious and delicious food was taken, casting Nordic Food as a gastronomic cultural adventure. There has also focus on commensality, the importance of the cooking and the meal as a happy social event. This has also given ways to new nutrition education in schools, focused on smelling and tasting as well as hands on growing of food. Some of the Nordic countries have been using food policies, such as taxation of sugar to tackle the flood of unhealthy food, and all countries have set up a ban on advertisement of unhealthy food towards children, although implemented in different ways. There have also been public-private and civil society partnerships on changes in food production, differing in depth and endpoints as well as various voluntary nutrition commitments. Together all these measures have broadened the range of healthy food in stores. Furthermore, all the Nordic countries monitor the diet of their populations on different levels and do research on the effect of food eaten on health. However, today a minority eats according to the Nordic diet guidelines. Some larger cities have made their own policies. Policies, whether governmental or more local, are more easy to set than designing, funding, initiating, accomplishing and evaluating the different projects. Many of the above measures could be used more efficiently and there is definitely room for even more productive and diverse public health nutrition measures. The future will reveal the fruits of these.

Food banks in the U.S. and across the world are very diverse – from small operations serving people spread out across large rural areas to very large facilities that store and distribute many millions of pounds of food each year, and everything in between. A variety of factors impact how food banks work, from the size of the facility to the number of staff members. But, one thing all food banks have in common is that they rely on donors and volunteers to carry out their day-to-day operations.

Food banks may also offer other services or serve as a central hub for referrals to other services such as federal nutrition assistance programs, job skills training, financial literacy programs, after-school programs or health care referrals. They also raise awareness about hunger in their communities and work with elected officials to support policies that help people facing hunger.

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