Adelphi sparks discussion on the complicated issue of food insecurity in the region.

The struggle many families face to put a good meal on the table is a nationwide problem—impacted by standard of living, geographic location and more. Educators, religious leaders, government officials and individuals whose lives and the lives of those they serve have been touched by food insecurity recently participated in a lively presentation and discussion on the subject, with a laser-like focus on the problem on Long Island.

In recognition of World Health Day, Adelphi University’s Institute for Social Research and Community Engagement (iSoRCE) announced the findings of its 152-page study, two years in the making, at Alumni House on the morning of April 9, 2013.

Sarah Eichberg, Ph.D., director of community research at Adelphi University, and Jacqueline Hart, Ph.D., vice president of the American Jewish World Service, presented their qualitative study, “The Truth and the Facts: Food Inequality on Long Island.”

“Our interviews, focus groups, ethnographic fieldwork and community-based participatory research project shed light on the daily experiences of accessing food compared to expert conceptions,” Dr. Eichberg said. “Individuals shared three main worries about food: having enough to survive, having the right kind of food to eat and having the ability to access food in a socially acceptable way.”

It is the first study of its kind that examines the first-hand experiences of individuals living in food poverty on Long Island to provide awareness and influence policy recommendations that could increase access to nutritious food for underserved populations. The study, based on interviews with more than 35 individuals, focused on the Mastics and Shirley, areas that have large swaths of land that are characterized as food deserts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Almost all of the food deserts on Long Island are located in Suffolk County.

“Food deserts are areas or communities where people don’t have easy access to affordable and nutritious foods,” Dr. Eichberg said. “Typically it’s measured by the number of supermarkets and the distance people live from them.” According to the study, geographic access, the traditional unit of measurement for food deserts is of some relevance to food inequality. Families get their food from various places, from supermarkets to big-box stores to dollar stores. They typically travel 10–15 minutes to buy affordable groceries to feed their families, although some travel as far as Queens from eastern Suffolk.

Food deserts have been a growing concern of the Federal government, due in part to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. Policymakers have suggested that, through education, people are bound to make better food choices. But price, taste and convenience are not considered variables in assessing access to and the affordability and preparation of food.

According to “The Truth and The Facts,” there is no correlation between having knowledge about nutrition and making healthy choices. “People actually know a lot about nutrition and express a great deal of awareness about nutritional guidelines,” Dr. Hart said. “But people are very concerned about their lack of ability to purchase food that they know is nutritional.” People living in poverty and the rising population of near poverty—those within 100–200 percent of the poverty line—aren’t able to afford the food they need, given the high costs of living on Long Island, especially housing costs.

Following the presentation, Amy Bentley, Ph.D., associate professor of food studies at New York University, provided a response, as did multiple community members from Shirley and the Mastics who were research participants in the study. An audience question-and-answer period closed the event with dozens of audience members asking questions, clarifying research findings and sharing their own experiences.

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