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Food Banks Are Not the Solution To Hunger, Some Advocates Say

canned food at food bank
Liz Schlemmer

UNC REX Healthcare has launched a new food bank in response to rising rates of hunger and gaps in the federal SNAP program. North Carolina has the 8th highest rate of food insecurity in the country.

The new food bank is one of more than 200 in the country working to feed low income families and address and gaps in federal nutrition programs.

According a new Hunger Perception survey by the non-profit group Why Hunger, almost 90 percent of Americans think food insecurity is a solvable problem. But that's why program director Alison Cohen says opening more food banks is a bad sign: she says hunger is just a symptom of bigger problems.

“It's economic injustice. It's systemic racism. It's environmental impact,” Cohen said. “These are the deeper underlying causes of hunger. So if we don't address those root causes we're going to continue to operate these food banks around the county.”

Cohen says donors should put more pressure on food banks to advocate for solutions to hunger, and those organizations should make plans to put themselves out of business.

But, she said, these organizations often don't have plans to do so.

“We're continuing to see growth,” she said. “And that growth is continuing to be celebrated instead of exposed as an indicator of how we're institutionalizing food access distribution to poor people in this country.”

Cohen supports living wages, sustainable agriculture and dismantling of systemic racism to help diminish the need for food banks. She cites the education and advocacy efforts of Raleigh's Interfaith Food Shuttle and RAFI in Pittsboro as examples of progress.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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