Rachael Ray is a woman of many hats. She’s had a very successful career as a Food Network TV personality; she hosts her own talk show, which has won two Daytime Emmy Awards; she’s authored multiple best-selling cookbooks and is the founder and editorial director of her own lifestyle magazine. Today, she is using her influence to raise awareness about an epidemic that is closer to your backyard than you might think.
Hunger at home
According to Feeding America, 13.1 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2015. Hunger hurts everyone, but is especially devastating in youth. In 2006, Ray created Yum-o., a nonprofit organization that encourages children and their families to develop healthier relationships with food and cooking.
“Sometimes, the only access many families in need of food have is to packaged food, simply because they either don’t have access to fresh ingredients where they live or they do not know how to cook,” Ray explains. Children from families struggling with hunger may be more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments or have social or behavioral problems.
Ray believes that ending childhood hunger is a shared task. “I don’t like to wag my finger, but I’m wagging my finger,” she says. “This is our responsibility.”
How can you and your family move the needle? Start by wasting less. Between 25 and 40 percent of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Not only is this bad for hungry families; it’s bad for the environment. When food is disposed in a landfill, it rots and becomes a significant source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 21-times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
“The amount of food that goes wasted in this country is staggering,” Ray reports. “Ninety percent of us throw away food too soon. Each of us tosses nearly 300 pounds of food each year.”
By making better use of the 70 billion pounds of food waste in America each year, we may collectively put a dent in childhood hunger. “We need to fix this,” she urges. “We need to save this food that gets plowed under or thrown away by farmers and teach more people to cook at home so they don’t have to waste as much food.”
Beyond wasting less, Rachael stresses the importance of proper nutrition. It’s no secret that low-income and food insecure individuals are vulnerable to obesity. Healthy food is often more expensive than unhealthy, heavily processed alternatives. It is estimated that the U.S. spends roughly $147 to nearly $210 billion on obesity-related health care expenses.
“We need good food and nutrition to fuel our body. Every single human being should have the right and access to nutritious good-for-you foods,” Ray outlines. “There are too many ‘food deserts’ out there, in communities across the country, where people can’t even buy an apple.”
Despite the bleak statistics, when it comes to the future of childhood hunger, Ray is hopeful: “Like every charity, our goal is to not have to exist anymore. If every child and their family knew how to cook for themselves; if there were not over 13 million children living in food-insecure households; if every high school student had the ability to go to school to learn a trade they loved, there wouldn’t have to be a Yum-o.
“Block by block, community by community,” Ray says, “we need to make sure every American has access to fresh produce and we need to keep on top of our schools to make sure they are providing nutritious meals to our nation’s kids.”