Food Insecurity and Food Waste

As a society, we waste over one-third of all food that is produced. Yet, there are millions of people that are malnourished and don’t know when their next meal will be. Throughout this article, we’ll take a look at the complex relationship between food insecurity and food waste by analyzing population data and considering snippets of U.S. history.

Food insecurity describes the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. In the U.S., 14.3 million households were food insecure in 2018, meaning that it was difficult to provide sufficient food for everyone in those homes. In the same year, an average of 39.7 million Americans relied on SNAP benefits (previously known as food stamps) every month. The coronavirus pandemic has made this situation even direr. Meanwhile, reducing food waste in the U.S. by even 30% would be enough to feed 50 million Americans every year if distributed properly. This is a simple fix to a lot of socio-economic issues.

To learn more about the context and consequences of food waste, follow this link.

Who is Food Insecure?

U.S. Population (2019)

To preface this discussion, let’s start by looking at the racial makeup of the U.S. population.

White alone76.50%
Black or African American alone13.40%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone1.30%
Asian alone5.90%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone0.20%
Two or more races2.70%

The majority of the U.S. population is white (76.5%), while minorities make up 23.5% of the total population.

– – – – – – – – – –

U.S. Households (2019)

Now let’s look at how U.S. households are distributed, based on the race of the household’s head.


All households128,579100%
White alone, non-Hispanic households84,72766%
Black alone households17,16713%
Asian alone households6,9815%
Hispanic households17,75814%

*Numbers reported in thousands

As we can see, 66% of U.S. households have a white head-of-house, which still reflects the majority of the U.S. population is white.

– – – – – – – – – –

U.S. Overall Food Security (2018)

Now let’s look at the food security status of households in the U.S.

Note that 88.9% of households are food secure and 11.1% of households experience food insecurity. More than one out of every ten people could go hungry at any time.

Before we dive deeper into the demographics of the food insecure households, consider how the distribution should resemble the proportions of U.S. households based on the race of the head of the house. That is to say, we should expect a majority of food insecure households to have a white head-of-house. Based on the racial makeup of the country, one should expect minority-led households to experience 30-40% of food insecurity, with black- and Hispanic-lead households experiencing 10-15% of food insecurity. However, this is not the case.

– – – – – – – – – –

U.S. Food Insecurity (2018)

In reality, minorities have a disproportionately large number of food-insecure households. White households only experience about half of the total food insecurity in the U.S. In other words, 5.3% of the total U.S. population could be categorized as white-lead, food-insecure households; of the 11% of households that experience food insecurity, 48% are white-lead.

Race/ethnicity of head:# Food Insecure Households (thousands)%
White non-Hispanic6,86948.00%
Black non-Hispanic3,52624.64%
Other non-Hispanic9796.84%

While white people are a majority of the U.S. population (76.5%) and own a majority of households (66%), they experience only half of all food insecurity in the U.S. (48%). Minorities comprise only a quarter of the total U.S. population, but experience half of the nation’s food insecurity.

66% of households in the U.S. are white-lead


How We Got Here: Linking Housing and Food Insecurity

For the purpose of analyzing the data presented here, we will link redlining and home loans to the prevalence of food insecurity in minority communities.

Redlining and Home Loans

Redlining describes a loan program set forth by President Roosevelt in the 1930s to help Americans buy homes. To decide who would receive the loans, the federal government and banks color-coded maps: green neighborhoods indicated a predominantly white area and red neighborhoods indicated predominantly black areas. In green areas, it was easy to get a loan, and suburb developers prohibited minorities from moving in. In red areas, it was difficult to get a loan. The effects of these policies are still lasting in the U.S. today.

Home Loans, Education, and Poverty

From 1934-1968, 98% of home loans went to white citizens. As white homeowners accrued wealth, families in green neighborhoods became richer, and families in red neighborhoods were trapped in poverty. Even though laws were eventually passed which made redlining illegal, families in red areas could not afford to move, so neighborhoods and schools remained segregated by both race and class.

Consider how redlining affects education- schools are funded by local property taxes, and property taxes are higher in wealthier areas. So, in poor areas, low home values mean low property taxes, less school funding, worse education, and less job opportunity. All of these continue the cycle of poverty. Meanwhile, the opposite is true in wealthy areas, and so the cycle of wealth is continued.

Food For Thought:

The episode in the show Explained titled “The Racial Wealth Gap” discusses more information on the racial wealth gap.

– – – – – – – – – –

Poverty and Food Insecurity

Context: Poverty by Ethnicity

People are living in poverty if their annual income is lower than the federal government’s poverty threshold, which for a family of four is about $25,100.

Let’s look at U.S. poverty by ethnicity.

Again, we see that minorities are disproportionately impoverished compared to the population and household data we discussed earlier.

– – – – – – – – – –

Relating Poverty and Food Insecurity

For Americans who find earning a living wage to be out of reach and/or face systemic barriers to achieving income stability, food security is also usually unattainable. The reverse is also true: a household being unable to afford sufficient, quality foods correlates with experiences of unemployment and poverty. This cycle keeps millions of American individuals and families earning low incomes and worrying about providing adequate food for their households.

Remedies for Food Insecurity

Although it is only one step in a marathon, alleviating hunger and food insecurity makes for a more equitable world and one where more women and children can become educated and pursue job opportunities. But, this is still a step we have to take. So what are we to do?

To stunt food insecurity, Feeding America emphasizes the importance of:

  • federal programs (such as SNAP, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid),
  • serving high-need and disinvested communities (such as single parents and communities of color),
  • connecting people with opportunities to build household security,
  • and charitable contributions.

In terms of charitable contributions, food and monetary donations to food banks are the main solutions for improving food security.

Food Insecurity and Food Waste

About 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted. Diverting edible food that would otherwise be wasted by households and businesses to food-insecure individuals via food donation programs contributes to hunger relief efforts and reduces food waste.

We’ve made a map to easily discover food donation programs near you.

U.S. citizens and businesses are often afraid of being sued by or accidentally harming those they donate to. However, there are protections in the U.S. to limit legal liability when donating food.

OneThird and Food Insecurity

OneThird’s main goal is to reduce food waste. Food justice – the movement to reduce food insecurity –  is intertwined with this mission.

As previously mentioned, reducing food losses in the U.S. by even 30% would be enough to feed 50 million Americans every year if distributed properly. Our technology allows for any business in the fresh produce supply chain to determine the shelf life of their produce. Healthy, nutritious produce with too short of a shelf life for supermarkets could quickly be redistributed to food banks rather than becoming waste.

Further, minorities in the U.S. and BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) communities globally are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Minorities tend to live in locations that are hit worst by climate change and the higher rates of poverty experienced by minorities exacerbates their vulnerability. Additionally, discrimination against minorities make it harder for them to cope with the impacts of climate change.

U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change will be unsuccessful if efforts do not include minority and indigenous communities. There is not much research on how climate change will affect minorities and indigenous groups, and neither receives adequate support from or exerts significant influence over governments. Additionally, there are many systemic barriers to equality, equity, and justice in the context of race. A leading barrier is the higher prevalence of poverty, food insecurity, poor education resources, and lack of job opportunities in minority and indigenous communities.

All this is to say that OneThird acknowledges the relationships between food insecurity and food waste and between food justice and climate change; we are continuing to educate ourselves on this issue and we are committed to using our technology to further both movements.

OneThird and Food Waste

We provide the fresh produce supply chain with solutions that enable retailers, distributors and growers to better assess the quality of produce and optimize its routing, thus maximizing efficiency. To learn more about how OneThird can help your business, contact us or email us directly at

one third logo

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *