Resource and Information Guide: Hunger, Food and the Coronavirus

by Alexina Cather, MPH

Peer-reviewed Resources on Factors that Illustrate the Relationship Between Hunger, Food, and the Coronavirus

Impact of Pandemics/Epidemics, Recessions and National Emergencies on Food Security – Lessons Learned from Previous Global Responses 

Nutritional Quality of Food Available to Food Insecure Populations

Strategies to Mitigate Food Insecurity

Food Insecurity and Factors Impacting Nutrition in Children and Young Adults

Strategies to Maximize Nutrition in Food Insecure Populations

Screening and Measurement of Hunger and Food Insecurity

Impact of Food Insecurity on Mental Health

Nutritional Education and Food Insecurity

Social Isolation and Food Insecurity 

Impact of Food Insecurity on Immune Response and Adherence to Treatment

The Role of the Technology in Mitigating Food Insecurity.

Select Media Publications on Hunger, Food and the Coronavirus

Impact of Coronavirus on Food Supply Chain

Impact of Coronavirus on Food Access

Food Safety Concerns

Impact of Coronavirus on Food Pantries and Emergency Food Services

Community Action to Reduce Food Insecurity During Coronavirus

Impact of Coronavirus on the Restaurant Industry

Impact of Coronavirus on Food-Insecure Children and College Students

Cooking, Gardening, and Nutrition Education During Coronavirus

Government and Legislative Action to Reduce Food Insecurity During Coronavirus

General Statistics and Databases Related to Hunger and Food Insecurity 

Handbooks and Toolkits:

General Questions:

  • What strategies/interventions have historically been most effective in New York City in mitigating food insecurity in emergencies? Least effective? And how does the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with stay-at-home policies in place differ from previous emergencies New York City has faced? How are we dealing with the new challenges? What are we doing really well? What is working to feed those that are food insecure and hungry? Let’s start with the elderly, the disabled and the sick. 
  • What concerns you the most about our local food supply under the coronavirus pandemic — especially when it comes to underserved communities?
  • What safety precautions are we taking to protect our most vulnerable populations (elderly, children, those with disabilities and preexisting conditions) from food distribution workers? Protective gear? Facemasks? Antibacterial gels? What about the fact the COVID-19 can stay on surfaces (e.g., plastics, stainless steel, cardboard) for more than 24 hours? (See NEJM Journal Article Here)
  • How is the coronavirus impacting farms and farmers? Are farms taking steps to protect their workers? If so, what? If farmers and grocery store workers are getting sick isn’t there a good chance produce is carrying the virus? Does cooking food kill any trace of COVID-19 that might be on fresh produce? Can we encourage consumers on a large scale to continue to buy produce and to cook it as much as possible – stir fry, roasted vegetables, etc.?
  • How is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting farmers’ markets? NYC and regional CSAs provide guaranteed weekly deliveries of local, sustainably produced vegetables, fruits, and other products to members while supporting, and often keeping financially viable, local growers. How is the pandemic impacting CSAs? Is there an opportunity here that isn’t being taken advantage of to feed more New Yorkers fresh, local food?
  • How do we protect food workers who are working tirelessly to ensure New York City continues to have access to food from getting sick? We already know there aren’t masks and medical supplies. What can we do right now to protect them from getting sick and making sure they receive free medical treatment if they do? 
  • What about protection for volunteers and those working who distribute food? Are there any standardized protections taking place or is it all ad hoc? Is the city taking precautions to ensure food distribution workers/volunteers aren’t contracting and passing on the coronavirus? Shouldn’t they be treated as if they were on the front lines? I’ve been watching the news and reading stories about food delivery workers and grocery store employees and how some are now considered “frontline workers” – -and they are – -but what about those working in pantries and emergency food distribution? I haven’t heard too much.
  • Trader Joe’s has already reported several cases of COVID-19 and we can anticipate an increase in coronavirus cases amongst grocery store workers in the coming weeks. Why aren’t we preemptively doing more? For instance, supplying all bodega and grocery store workers with masks, installing plexiglass “sneezeguard” barriers to checkout counters to protect cashiers and shoppers from direct exposure to COVID-19 and to help with social distancing.
  • 1.2 million New York City residents were food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic. Are those who were already food insecure struggling more to secure food now than they were before the coronavirus pandemic? Or is the bigger problem now that more individuals are now food insecure due to large scale layoffs and difficulties getting to grocery stores? Meaning, more people are going to need food because of these layoffs. Will the sudden surge of new food insecure individuals impact those who were already using our emergency food system? 
  • We know there are constant issues feeding those living in underserved communities and those who are food insecure and hungry. What additional systems and coordination can be put in place now to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious foods? As the most vulnerable are being told to stay home — how is NYC ramping up to create delivery to these people? And again, as talked about previously, how are we keeping delivery people safe and making sure they don’t contract and spread COVID-19?
  • How are nonprofits and government agencies working on the frontline in NYC changing their models during the coronavirus pandemic? What have you learned about gaps in our food system and the supply chain? What are overall lessons learned thus far from this pandemic and what, if anything, will stick?
  • How has the increase in panic food purchasing along with the additional availability of food previously distributed to restaurants but now on the market to the public impacted food for those most in need? Is it harder or easier to get food to those in need?
  • Are there any urban communities (around the world) enacting impressive and outstanding policies and programming in terms of feeding those that are the neediest during this pandemic? If so, what would it take to replicate the model here in NYC? Is there anything that we’ve learned so far that we can use when things “go back to normal”?  
  • It is difficult to prepare for an emergency situation like the COVID-19 pandemic that might come only once in 100 years. How could we have better prepared for a global emergency of this magnitude in terms of the significant impacts to our food system?

According to PAHO, a community that is food secure is a community where all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs. Food security depends on three main pillars: food availability – the physical amount and type of food grown and available to all people; food access – the ability for all community members to obtain nutritious foods in adequate amounts; and food utilization – the ability for a person’s body to sufficiently process food. 

The Supply Chain and the Availability of Food During Coronavirus

  • There has been a lot of attention focused on the amount of available food and whether or not food supply chains will continue to operate without significant interruptions during coronavirus. 
    • Can you briefly describe the food supply chain and include any unique challenges or opportunities that are specific to the supply chain in New York City?
    • Has coronavirus impacted the food supply chain? If so, how? Is there enough food available? Are there indicators of a looming food shortage?
    • When the virus recedes from New York City and spreads to smaller communities and rural areas throughout the United States how will this impact our food system?
    • What kind of food is most readily available? Is fresh produce more likely to experience interruptions than packaged, processed foods? If so, why?
    • What impact has the coronavirus had on US farmers? NY farmers?
    • How can we ensure the safety and health of farmers and food workers?
    • What happens as truckers, wholesalers and grocery store clerks get sick? 

Challenges for Food Banks and Food Pantries

  • Some local food banks have reported increased demand and decreased amounts of food. Some have had to shut their doors temporarily because of lack of food and the need for social distancing – what strategies can food banks adopt? How can the public support food banks at this time, especially when many may not be physically able to host volunteers? 
  • Many food banks still require IDs. How is this impacting our immigrant and undocumented populations? Can this requirement be removed from food pantry participation during the coronavirus pandemic?
  • Is expanding access to food pantry services enough to address food insecurity during COVID-19?
  • What kind of food is available in food pantries? What, if anything, can be done to ensure food from food pantries is nutrient dense?
  • We know everyone deserves access to fresh, nutritious food. How are decisions being made about the nutritional quality of food being distributed. Or is that something we just need to let go of during this pandemic? 
  • How can we use the internet to improve food access and utilization in a time where social distancing and quarantine may prevent those at risk of food insecurity from leaving their house?

Access to Food During Coronavirus

  • Are there particular groups that are most likely to be food insecure during coronavirus? Which populations/groups are most at risk for food insecurity?
    • How are we screening people for food insecurity? (How are we identifying the most food insecure individuals?)
      • Who is being screened?
      • Is our screening process adequate enough? What can be done to improve the process?
  • What strategies are being put in place to ensure all groups at risk for food insecurity have access to food…
    • By the Federal government?
    • By New York State?
    • By New York City?
    • Is this response sufficient? What more can be done?
  • With the closure of schools and senior centers, the city mobilized to continue to provide meals to students and seniors. The Department of Education is providing grab-and-go food services for children and the Department for the Aging (DFTA) is providing grab and go meals for seniors
      • What are some disadvantages of grab-and-go programs? 
      • What are some advantages of grab-and-go programs?
      • Are there plans in place to feed students over spring break?
      • How can we ensure some seniors who have limited mobility are receiving adequate nutrition?
      • What is the nutritional value of these meals? Are they prepared meals?

Food Utilization during Coronavirus:

  • Is the city providing any nutrition education to guide families and seniors during coronavirus?
    • What impact can nutrition education have on food insecurity?
    • How can food insecure families and individuals access nutrition education resources? Are there digital tools/apps available?
    • What can be done to educate the public about nutrition during an emergency?
  • What role can technology play in improving food utilization…
    • On the food supply chain level?
    • On the family/individual level?
    • On the level of emergency food services?
    • Are there apps and/or digital programs you recommend?
  • How does food insecurity impact overall health and immunity? 
    • People experiencing food insecurity may experience difficulties adhering to treatment and clinical recommendations – 
      • How can food insecurity/hunger impact recovery/immune response?
      • Why can food insecurity impact adherence to treatment?
    • Social isolation is currently the main preventative measure for COVID19 transmission and spread. DOH recommends people stay at home as much as possible to minimize exposure and spread of coronavirus. However, people who are more food insecure are less likely to be able to stock up on food and may need to leave their house more often than food secure individuals. 
      • What measures are being taken to protect food insecure individuals?
      • Is there any data yet linking food insecurity with increased risk of COVID19? 
      • How were food insecure individuals impacted during previous emergencies in New York City? 
    • Social isolation has been associated with higher rates of cognitive decline and mental health disorder in senior citizens. Social isolation can also increase mental illness in otherwise healthy individuals of all age groups. Food insecurity has also been linked to mental health disorders. 
      • How can food insecurity exacerbate mental health disorders? Do socially isolated, food insecure individuals have a higher risk of mental health disorders?
      • What can be done to help socially isolated, food insecure people connect to communities and food support systems during the coronavirus pandemic?
      • How can eating healthy improve mood and/or symptoms of mental illness?
      • What therapeutic value can cooking provide? 

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