Philip Latter is a Master of Social Work intern at Kathie’s House, also known as the Transylvania County Children’s Advocacy Center. The father of two previously worked as a senior writer at Runner’s World and Running Times magazines. He lives in Penrose.

What does a head of lettuce, a SNAP card, and cookbook have to do with ending child abuse?

No, this is not the lead-in for one of those old MacGyver jokes. This is a look at the correlation between food insecurity – defined simply as not have consistent and reliable access to affordable, nutritious food – and child abuse. It may not seem like an obvious connection, but for the 13 million children living in food insecure households, the effects are very real.

Social scientists and economists have only recently started exploring the link between food insecurity and child abuse, but thus far the connections appear pretty strong. Food insecurity is often linked closely with unemployment and poverty. This trifecta adds a serious layer of stress to the whole household and can directly affect a parent or child’s health. Consider a scenario where you are down to your last $20. Do you buy your kids dinner for the rest of the week or do you run down to the pharmacy to get your heart medication? It can often seem to be a question of whose health is worth sacrificing more, and that is a scenario no caregiver wants to find themselves in.

Trauma may play a large role in perpetuating this relationship. One study found that mothers who were sexual assault victims as children were four times more likely to head households where food security was a major issue. Food insecurity has also been linked to mental diagnoses, maternal anxiety, depression, isolation, and harmful parenting practices (such as the use of excessive physical force). These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) not only affect our generation’s children in the here and now, they all too often also lead to the same cycles repeating when those once-hungry children become parents.

It can be difficult to disentangle the effects of poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, maternal mental health and parental aggression, but a recent (and incredibly comprehensive!) study published in the journal Child Maltreatment shows that if you could isolate it in a bubble, increasing food security has a direct link of lowering incidences of child abuse. This is true for the parents as much as the children. Being in a chronic state of stress and hunger makes it incredibly hard to parent at an ideal level. All of which begs the question: If I’m heading a household where food insecurity is a major issue, how do I get ahead?

There’s no easy answer. But as organizations like GetSet Transylvania County start rolling out their Healthy Eating Toolkits and organizations within Transylvania County provide more and more nutritious foods at free or reduced charges, the opportunity to remove some of that stress finally is becoming a reality.
This month’s toolkit includes recipes and fun food ideas which can done on a budget – and with foods you can find courtesy of the following local non-profit organizations.

• Sharing House (164 Duckworth Ave, Brevard): This non-profit organization offers a mix of non-perishable and fresh foods in each of its take home boxes. As an added bonus, they have numerous other programs and services available, including a seasonal Christmas Blessings program.

• Bread of Life (238 S. Caldwell Street, Brevard): This free community kitchen serves simple and enriching foods to those who need them most. Their hours are currently 12 to 2 on weekdays.

• Transylvania County Schools: CARES Act funding has initiated a wonderful school lunch program that provides meals on days children (including those too young for school) are not in session. Stop by your nearest TCS school every Friday between 10 and 2 to receive these free food items.

• Transylvania County Farmers Market (200 E. Main Street, Brevard): Not only is locally grown produce the most delicious and nutritious, but customers using their EBT cards will have their purchasing power doubled courtesy of the Farmers Market’s matching funds program. There is no better place to up your health potential than the weekly market on Main Street in Brevard. Winter hours are 10-12 every Saturday, rain or shine.

• The Hunger Coalition of Transylvania County: Featuring a mobile market that travels to Sapphire, Pisgah Forest, Rosman, and Brevard, and a motto of “Hunger-Free Transylvania,” this organization has a mission to end food insecurity in the region. More details on their programs can be found at https://www.hungerfreetc.org/services

• God’s Way Food Pantry: With over 250,000 pounds of food distributed annually, this Lake Toxaway-based ministry program has worked with citizens in Balsam Grove, Toxaway, and adjacent parts of Jackson County for over 15 years. Featuring a kitchen, pantry, and pick-up areas, this program has continued to push forward through the pandemic. More details at https://laketoxawaycharities.org/our-programs/neighbors-in-need-serving-the-abused-disable-and-indigent/gods-way-food-pantry/

No matter how you’re feeling this winter, please know there are organizations out there fighting for the best interests of those without food. Taking advantage of these offerings presents a chance to not only fill your pantry but to also give your children the gift of safety and security in these tough times.

 

Sources:

Chilton, M., Knowles, M., Rabinowich, J., & Arnold, K.T. (2015). The relationship between childhood adversity and food insecurity: ‘It’s like a bird nesting in your head.’ Public Health Nutrition, 18(14), 2643-2653.

Cohen, R.S., Moore, J.L, & Barron, C.E. (2018). Food insecurity and child maltreatment: A quality improvement project. Rhode Island Medical Journal, 101(7), 31-34.

Helton, J.J. Jackson, D.B., Boutwell, B.B. &; Vaughn, M.G. (2019). Household food insecurity and parent-to-child aggression. Child Maltreatment, 24(2), 213-221.