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Partners in Crime: Food Insecurity and Violence


Why Food Insecurity?

It wasn’t until I joined the Restorative Justice space that I began to see what motivates violence in our community. My work in Reach For Youth’s Teen Court program allowed me to take part in a Restorative Justice process that centered around the rehabilitation of troubled youth by addressing the root causes of their violent behavior. I recall youth involved in fights due to bullying, theft due to hunger, and disobedience caused by neglect at home. My participation in their rehabilitation left me with what I would call a restorative mindset. Meaning, that instead of looking toward the traditional violence prevention tool: fear of punishment, I became focused on the needs of individuals and the consequences for society when those needs are not met. This sentiment was once expressed concisely by Marshall Rosenberg: “Violence is the tragic expression of unmet needs.”


The philosophy of Restorative Justice suggests that, in order to create a nonviolent society, we must address violence through all of its indirect contributors. Conditions like food and housing insecurity, for example, are what leave people without their needs being met. Addressing the root causes of violence is an age-old tactic espoused by countless nonviolent leaders from Dr. King to Gandhi.


Dr. King’s Advice


In King’s famous essay, A Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, King outlines the six principles of his nonviolent philosophy, Kingian Nonviolence. In this article, I will discuss a few of these principles, and what insight they provide us into the relationship between violence and food insecurity.


Principle Three: Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil.


“The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.”


If violence is the result of unmet needs, addressing those needs should be the priority of nonviolence advocates. In addition, punishing those who use violence will not end the pattern of violence. In fact, when one engages in violence in a retaliatory manner, they are contributing to a larger chain of violence. Only when we address the forces that motivate violence, such as food insecurity, can we effectively decrease violence in the long term. Reductions in food insecurity have been shown to consistently reduce violence.


The Facts


How many Americans' food needs are not being met? According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, 38.3 million people lived in food-insecure households in 2020; meaning roughly 1 in 9 households are unable to consistently place food on the table. A proportion of that size leaves a few struggling people in a small office, multiple in every classroom and dozens in every school cafeteria. With so many Americans struggling to secure food, these low-income households are left making difficult decisions


Each year, 1 in 7 Americans, or 46.5 million, turn to the Feeding America network for help.


Of them:


69% Had to choose between food and utilities


67% Had to choose between food and transportation.


66% Had to choose between food and medical care.


57% Had to choose between food and housing.


31% Had to choose between food and education.


When such a large proportion of caregivers in our community has to make sacrificial decisions to feed its children, and roughly 6.1 million children live in food-insecure households, many youth’s needs are not met. The effects of this on our society are in the multiples.


Increases in food insecurity drastically increase violence in communities. A Clemson University Thesis titled: An Examination of Food Insecurity and Its Impact on Violence Crime in American Communities outlines the causal relationship between food insecurity and violence. Its key finding: “The results show that a one percent increase in food insecurity leads to an increase in the violent crime rate of approximately 12 percent holding other predictors of violent crime constant.”


It is vital to understand that the relationship demonstrated was not simply correlational, but causal. Food insecurity is the cause and violence is the effect. Income level and population size aside, food insecurity alone is shown to result in massively large increases in violence rates. With that in mind, consider the effect of reducing food insecurity by 10 or even 5 percent.


King’s Beloved Community


The ripples felt in our communities resulting from addressing food insecurity go beyond a reduction in crime. When people's basic needs are met, they are elevated out of a space of survival and into a headspace where they can focus on more complex needs (as exemplified by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). From there a sense of beloved community can be formed, prescribed by the second principle of Kingian Nonviolence:


Principle 2: The Beloved Community is the Framework for the Future.


“The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.”


A family focused on putting food on the table has little concern for putting food on the table of their neighbors. By addressing food insecurity and meeting the needs of the community, people can focus on improving their lives and the lives of those around them. Psychologists such as Maslow have theorized that humans are unable to pursue a loving community and self-actualization when their basic needs aren't met.


In short, Kingian Nonviolence suggests that addressing food insecurity is how we create the community of the future.


Final Thoughts


Next week I will attend this year's March for Our Lives rally in downtown Indianapolis. However, I am already quite sure of what I will see. My peers and I are frustrated. We are frustrated that our years of marching haven't yet produced the results we want. We are frustrated that laws are not changing. We are frustrated that our classmates, parents, friends and coworkers are dying and that our legislators cannot agree upon a solution.


To my frustrated peers, I offer you this: You can do more than protest. You can reduce violence in your community by assisting movements that address the unseen motivators of violence. If you would like to affect real change in your community, find a way to help feed your community. Find your local food pantry, homeless shelter, or hunger-focused nonprofit and give your time.


Continue the legacy of the late Martin Luther King Jr. and be courageous, attack the sources of evil, and create the beloved community of our future.




Works Cited

U.S. Department of Agriculture . (n.d.). Key Statistics & Graphics. USDA ERS - Key Statistics & Graphics. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-u-s/key-statistics-graphics/

Caughron, J. R. (2016, December). "An Examination of Food Insecurity and Its Impact on Violent Crime in American Communities. Tiger Prints. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3571&context=all_theses

Indy Hunger. (2021, May 14). What hunger looks like. Indy Hunger Network. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.indyhunger.org/what-hunger-looks-like/

King, M. L. (n.d.). Six principles of Kingian Non-violence. The Gathering For Justice. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.gatheringforjustice.org/six-principles-of-kingnian-non-violence



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