Food Banks and Globalization: Speaking the Language of Hunger

Poverty—a word difficult to define. What is poverty? Who is considered poor? For how long is a person considered poor? Some argue that poverty is a temporary state, while others would take it a step further and define it as a label that shapes the whole trajectory of a person’s life. And while the debate can take contrasting positions and lead to different conclusions, most agree that food insecurity is an element that reflects and affects poverty. To combat food insecurity, food banks must be able to reach the poor wherever they are.  Understanding the relationship between food banks and globalization can increase the chances of helping migrant communities come out of poverty. 

Reasons for Food Insecurity

Food banks must be able to react to economic changes. Indeed, the recession led to a large growth in people attending to food banks. Many food pantries saw their attendance multiply. For example, the Christ Church, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, saw a tenfold increase in monthly attendance from 2007 to 2009(

Besides economic downturns, a second developing and phenomenon also requires foodbanks to adapt: migration.

Globalization has encouraged the people from other countries to seek economic opportunities. In 2010, the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that the United States had 40 million immigrants ( Of this group, one in four are in poverty.

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Unique Challenges of Migrants

Migration is  important to food banks because it creates several challenges that must be addressed. As previously mentioned, a quarter of migrants are considered poor. These migrants would increase the attendance to food banks.

Food Customs

Once challenge that arises is when migrants wish to combine the available food stuffs with their culinary customs. Migrants don't simply drop their culinary identity, which some consider to be a defining part of who they are as a culture. But in the new country, their culinary heritage begins to shape under a different social environment. 

 To support their adaptation to the host country with different food supplies, pantries are charged with educating the migrant community on food preparation. The unavailability of certain foods that migrants are used to can lead to the consumption of unhealthful food choices which, over time, can lead to chronic health issues.  At the same time, some people may simply reject consuming certain foods because they simply don't know how to consume them.

In this instance, food banks can make a difference by understaning the culinary customs and limitations migrants now face and look to mitigate them. With a little education, food bank personell can suggest alternative meals that assimilate to their culture and encourage a healthy diet.  If the foodbank has an abundance of potatoes, for example, the foodbank can generate recepies of the target culture which include potatoes. Likewise, the foodbank can hire a nutrition specialist to engage the community in thier cultural context and educate them on healful food preparation and consumption. While these are only a couple of ways to address the culinary challenge of migrants, there are many other options to influence the adaptation of different cultures to the availabe food supplies of the host country. The important part is to communicate.  

Language Barrier

While many foodbanks may be willing to communicate with these different cultures, they face the barrier of language.  In order for people to access food aid available to them, they fisrt must know it exists. Thus, food bank workers must have access to a suite of Language Access tools. Food banks must have translations of forms, flyers websites, and contact information available various languages. Also, they must be able to have access to a language interpreter if staff is unable to communicate key information to the people with Limited English Proficiency, or LEPs. 

Having access to a suite of Language Access tools also gives the foodbank social relevance in LEP communities. First of all, if food banks make an effort to communicate with LEPs, they know that they are welcome at that location because they are seeking to communicate with them in their language.

Second, food banks with access to Language Acess tools, also have access to cultural resources. For example, a language interpeter's job, besides communicating spoken language, also communicates the cultural language. For example, if a member of a local food bank does or says something that may disrespect the LEP, the interpreter will advise the foodbank member of the issue and explain the discrepancy and suggest a culturally appropriate action to preserve an open channel of communication. 

So, what does globalization mean for food banks? It means that handing out food is only a part of the equation. With globalization at full speed, food banks must have Quality language access to communicate both linguistically and culturally how to consume the food they so willingly give.  

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