Easing the Toxic Stress of Food Insecurity

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

A recent special report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The Crisis Within – How Toxic Stress and Trauma Endanger our Children,” cites a child’s exposure to toxic stress as being linked to asthma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke later in life. It also cites food insecurity as one of the stressors.
Food insecurity is not having reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food – a form of stress that is all too common to people living in poverty-stricken areas. However poverty is not the ultimate determinant of food insecurity. There are people living above the poverty line who are at risk for hunger, too.

One in six individuals in the St. Louis region don’t know where their next meal is coming from – even more disturbing is that one in four of these food-insecure individuals are children.

In our work at Operation Food Search we are on the frontline in a head-to-head battle against this problem that plagues our area’s kids and causes biological damage that negatively affects their development and overall health.

In our arsenal is Cooking Matters®, a food-skills program led by Operation Food Search dietitians and nutritionists, with assistance from volunteer instructors. Cooking Matters is helping thousands of kids, teens, adults, families, and child-care providers cut back on the amount of toxic stress they are exposed to by empowering them with knowledge and confidence to shop for and cook healthy, delicious home cooked meals on a very limited budget.

Participants in our Cooking Matters classes and demos learn how to shop seasonally, construct a meal plan, utilize unit pricing to find the best deal, stretch ingredients across several meals, add in more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, choose leaner, more affordable proteins, and practice kitchen safety to avoid illness and injury. In learning how to stretch their food dollars to purchase more food with less money and incorporate a healthy diet as part of their lifestyle, some of their stress is relieved. Purchasing healthy affordable wholesome foods: 1) lessens food insecurity, 2) improves long-term health status, 3) frees up funds for other essentials (housing, utility bills, healthcare, transportation, etc.).

Eating a healthy diet that ensures the ability to reach one’s full potential should not be a luxury afforded by some, but a right for every individual. No family should have to choose between buying groceries and paying rent…a choice that is faced far too often in the bi-state area.

During April’s Stress Awareness Month, Operation Food Search looks to increase public awareness about the stress of hunger and our strategies to end this epidemic. Get involved this April and help others say goodbye to the stress of hunger. Operation Food Search seeks experienced culinarians to share their cooking skills and assist our nutrition and culinary team in teaching children, adults, and seniors how to shop for, cook and eat healthy and affordable, delicious meals.

Contact Danielle.Cherry@OperationFoodSearch.org or call (314) 726-5355 X 27, or make a donation today at OperationFoodSearch.org. You’ll help others cope with stress and make yourself feel better, too!