Opinion: Marius Zürcher on food insecurity

Food insecurity has many detrimental effects. It can cause malnutrition, lead to unhealthy dietary choices, and cause social unrest. But it can be mitigated against, says Zürcher

Last month, I wrote about stubbornly high inflation numbers, how they affect restaurants and how the latter can find solutions to ease pain. But what about consumers? How are they doing? Many of them, as you can image, are struggling. A major problem is food insecurity. According to research by the Food Foundation 17% of households in the UK were ‘food insecure’ (i.e. they ate less or went a day without eating because they couldn’t access or afford food) in June 2023, up from 8.8% in January 2022 and 7.4% in January 2021. Food banks in Germany and the Netherlands are struggling to meet the increased demand. The situation is similar in many countries across Europe and the world.

That is alarming news, as food insecurity has a lot of detrimental effects. One of the most direct impacts is malnutrition, which can lead to stunted growth, impaired cognitive development, and a weakened immune system. Additionally, food insecurity often results in people making unhealthy dietary choices due to limited resources, leading to an increase in chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Moreover, food security can contribute to social unrest and political instability. It is no coincidence that another wave of populism is sweeping across Europe.

Policy, education awareness

What can be done, then? Government policies, or the lack thereof, have a substantial influence on food security. Effective policies – minimum wage adjustments, income redistribution, targeted assistance programs, price controls, free school meals, tax cuts – can ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive adequate support. Conversely, inadequate policies or lack of enforcement can exacerbate the problem. Similarly, societal factors, including cultural attitudes and education, are also critical. The lack of awareness about nutrition, food waste, and unsustainable consumption patterns can exacerbate food insecurity.

Since this is the Foodservice Consultant, it is also worth looking at what the foodservice industry can do to tackle food insecurity.  A couple of options come to mind:

1) Donations: Foodservice providers can collaborate with food banks and charities to provide meals for those in need. This not only provides immediate relief but also helps fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility, which strengthens social cohesion.

2) Affordable menu options: Offering cost-effective, nutritious menu items can make it easier for economically disadvantaged individuals and families to access good, healthy food without straining their budgets. This approach also demonstrates the industry’s commitment to serving a broad spectrum of customers.

3) Reducing food waste: Reducing food waste and embracing sustainable practices can help conserve resources and make the food supply chain more resilient, ensuring that food is available for everyone, especially in times of crisis. Read more about how restaurants can tackle food waste here.

4) Lobbying: The foodservice industry possesses significant influence and reach. It can use its platform to raise awareness about food insecurity and advocate for policies that address the issue on a broader scale. By working with lawmakers and (local) governments, the industry can contribute to the development of strategies and initiatives aimed at eradicating food insecurity at its roots.

As some readers might have observed, options two and three were also mentioned by me in last month’s article, as strategies restaurants can use to combat the affects inflation has on their own bottom lines. That should not be surprising. After all, a rising tide lift all boats.

Marius Zürcher

About the author:

The co-owner & founder of Millennial & Gen Z marketing and employer branding agency 1520 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA and a speaker at FCSI workshops about industry trends.

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