Over centuries of human history, food has become more than just a survival necessity. Food cultivates cultures and relationships with one another. Unfortunately, one in 15 older adults in the U.S. currently experience food insecurity—defined as lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. Five million older adults rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); however, this represents only 42 percent of those who are eligible. To learn more, continue reading.
Age Friendly Seattle’s Civic Coffee on October 16 celebrated World Food Day. World Food Day encouraged us to start conversations on food security and how food plays a role in our daily lives. The Civic Coffee panelists who explored the relationship between older adults and food were Food Innovation Network program coordinator Faizah Shukru; West Seattle Food Bank executive director Fran Yeatts; and Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment senior planning and development specialist Tiffany Anderson.
Tiffany manages a SNAP Match program that allows people who are eligible for SNAP to get fresh produce through farmer’s markets or local grocery stores. Fresh Bucks are also vouchers under the SNAP program that participants can use at local farmer’s markets.
Tiffany mentioned that many older adults who are eligible for SNAP are not enrolled in the program. Our panelists discussed how many available programs are not being fully utilized, often due to a lack of accessibility or stigma against assistance programs.
To reduce stigma, Faizah mentioned how important it is to be in spaces together. Being more connected with each other also helps to educate and normalize these programs. The Fresh Bucks program has also changed the modes of payment to be more discrete, allowing those who are using it to have more privacy. They acknowledge the importance of treating assistance programs as buyer-and-seller models, which is why they have changed from Fresh Bucks paper tickets to cards.
Another reason why many don’t sign up for food assistance programs is accessibility. This is due in part to the diversity of older adults in King County and the different languages that are spoken here. Due to limited language access and paperwork requirements, programs can be difficult to navigate.
To combat this issue, Faizah mentioned that her program recruits community advocates for SNAP programs at local farmer markets, who can reach out in their own languages and help out their communities. The West Seattle Food Bank makes an effort to hire volunteers who speak different languages. In addition, they use phone translating apps to communicate with the community. Though work around language access still needs to be improved, there are resources available to help older adults navigate these systems.
Our panelists stressed how important it is to work with local communities. When sourcing food and other products, programs in Seattle try their best to support local farmers and business owners. Not only is this beneficial economically, eating organic locally-grown food is more nutritious for our bodies and lowers the carbon footprint of food transportation.
Working with small business owners, these programs also provide culturally relevant foods to the community. Faizah mentioned the Spice Bridge program that fosters women of color and immigrants who own small business owners and provides them with a space where they can share their cultural foods. This has also been a space for the public to experience new cultures and try new food. The West Seattle Food Bank also tries to provide culturally relevant foods, like halal meat, upon request.
In every culture, food has become more than just a necessity for living, it is also a medium where people are able to gather and be in presence of others. Not everyone has the privilege of nutritious food access, which is why programs and organizations in Seattle are stepping up to provide the community with healthy foods to not only prevent hunger but to also allow people to enjoy food. We encourage readers who are eligible for food assistance programs to check out SNAP, local food banks, and Spice Bridge in Tukwila. Happy eating!
Thanks to SHA High Point for hosting the October Civic Coffee
We would also like to give a special thanks to Ella McRae, the community builder at Seattle Housing Authority High Point, for hosting our live in-person Civic Coffee. October was the first time Civic Coffee was held in the community, rather than a city-owned space downtown. We were able to enjoy the company of the community while having great food!
During the event, we also had multiple live translations in Somali, Vietnamese, and Oromo. We encourage our readers to join in on our next in-person event in the future to further engage with the community.
To further learn more from our panelists about the different ways the people of Seattle are dealing with food insecurity, listen to the full recording of this Civic Coffee (available here).
Contributor Ronya Tan is an intern on the Age Friendly Seattle team who provides community outreach and program support. She is a student at the University of Washington.