The following is the Executive Summary of Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States, produced by the International Human Ri


The following is the Executive Summary of Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States, produced by the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at NYU School of Law

Executive Summary


The United States is facing a food security crisis: One in six Americans lives in a household that cannot afford adequate food. Of these 50 million individuals, nearly 17 million are children. Food insecurity has skyrocketed since the economic downturn, with an additional 14 million people classified as food insecure in 2011 than in 2007.

For these individuals, being food insecure means living with trade-offs that no one should have to face, like choosing between buying food and receiving medical care or paying the bills. Many food insecure people also face tough choices about the quality of food they eat, since low-quality processed foods are often more affordable and accessible than fresh and nutritious foods.

Food insecurity takes a serious toll on individuals, families, and communities and has significant consequences for health and educational outcomes, especially for children. Food insecurity is also enormously expensive for society. According to one estimate, the cost of hunger and food insecurity in the United States amounted to $167.5 billion in 2010.

The U.S. government’s predominant response to food insecurity involves a series of programs known as Domestic Nutrition Assistance Programs (“DNAPs”) that provide food and nutrition services to low-income Americans. Millions benefit from these programs: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, serves approximately 1 in 11 Americans each month, while more than half of infants born in the United States receive nutrition benefits through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Yet DNAPs fail to adequately address the needs of the 50 million Americans who live in food insecure households. First, eligibility requirements may be drawn too narrowly, thereby excluding many food insecure individuals from receiving benefits. Second, eligible participants face numerous administrative barriers to participation, such as complicated application and renewal processes. And third, the benefits provided through DNAPs may not be sufficient to meet participants’ food-related needs.

The limitations of government nutrition assistance programs are reflected in Americans’ increasing reliance on private “emergency” food providers, like food pantries, which many now turn to as a routine source of food. Yet private entities are themselves struggling in the face of the economic downturn and a growing demand for assistance.

Food insecurity in the United States is not the result of a shortage of food or of resources; it is the result of poverty and of policies and programs that fail to prioritize the needs of low-income Americans. Despite the magnitude of the problem, and its far-reaching implications, eradicating food insecurity has not been a political priority. Instead of addressing critical gaps in food assistance, the U.S. government is considering severe funding cuts and other reforms to DNAPs that could strip millions of Americans of crucial support, exacerbate already alarming rates of food insecurity, and push families into deeper crisis.


The time is ripe for a new approach to the problem. A human rights approach to food shifts the focus from food assistance as charity to adequate food as a human right. The right to food is a universally recognized norm that calls on governments to ensure that all people have access to food that is safe and nutritious, meets their dietary needs, and is appropriate to their cultural backgrounds.

Adopting a human rights approach to food offers the U.S. government a roadmap for addressing the root causes of food insecurity while empowering those who are least able to provide for themselves. Particularly in times of economic crisis, when governments face resource constraints and must manage trade-offs between various goals, the human rights framework signals to governments that they must prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and ensure that peoples’ basic needs and fundamental rights are fulfilled.

Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States proceeds in four parts. Part I addresses the scope, causes, and consequences of food insecurity in the United States. Part II assesses the U.S. government’s response to food insecurity through an analysis of the four largest government nutrition assistance programs, namely SNAP, WIC, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). Part II also looks at Americans’ increasing reliance on emergency food providers, such as food pantries, to make up for the shortcomings of government nutrition assistance programs. Part III introduces the human right to adequate food and describes governments’ obligations to ensure its fulfillment. Part III also illustrates how a human rights approach is consonant with long-standing American values that recognize the government’s role in ensuring freedom from want. Part IV applies the human rights framework to the problem of food insecurity in the United States and offers key recommendations to help fulfill the right to adequate food for all Americans.

Specifically, Part IV calls on the U.S. government to adopt a holistic and multi-faceted national strategy for fulfilling the right to adequate food. This national strategy should address the root causes of food insecurity and related problems like obesity. It must aim to ensure that food is accessible, both physically and economically; that food is adequate, meaning safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate; and that food is available to purchase or that people have the means to produce it themselves.

As part of this national strategy the government must take immediate steps to strengthen the existing food safety net. DNAPs should be reformed to ensure that these vital programs reach all who are food insecure, and in a manner that empowers beneficiaries to claim their rights with dignity. In particular, we recommend that the U.S. government:

Revise SNAP’s eligibility requirements to ensure that the program reaches all food insecure households;
Increase SNAP benefits to allow beneficiaries to purchase a sufficient amount of nutritious food;
Maintain SNAP as an entitlement program and convert WIC from a block grant to an entitlement program;
Develop and enhance strategies to increase participation in school meals programs and ensure that children have access to nutritious meals when not in school;
Prioritize efforts to streamline DNAP application, certification, and verification processes;
Launch a public awareness program to help remove stigma from DNAP participation and deliver benefits in a manner that helps reduce stigma;
Continue to monitor and improve the nutritional changes made to WIC, the NSLP, and the SBP and fund nutrition education programs, which can also play an important role in promoting dietary improvements.

A human rights approach to food issues in the United States suggests a new way forward: one that prioritizes the basic needs of all Americans, ensures support for a robust social safety net, comprehensively tackles the root causes of food insecurity, and fulfills the right to adequate food for all.

Click HERE to read the full report.

Click HERE for more information about the report, which includes links to the report, the press release, as well as the Democracy Now program which featured the report.


Reproduced with permission by TheInternational Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at New York University (NYU) School of Law.

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