Food Waste

Food Inflation vs. Food Insecurity: How Inflation Has Impacted Food Insecurity Since the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic


In the midst of the holiday season, one thing is on everyone’s mind: food. But whether food is easily accessible and affordable is another story and gives way to the different, less joyful word on everyone’s minds: inflation.

To understand the impact of inflation on current food prices in the United States, I will explore the following areas:

  • current causes of food inflation in the US,
  • the rise of food prices and impact on low-income households, and 
  • food insecurity during the holidays.
Food inflation has been on the rise especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current Causes of Food Inflation in the US

It is important to put the current rates of inflation into context. In the United States, the price of food began to increase in mid-2021 and coincided with higher distribution costs, labor shortages, and commodity price increases in the sector. Many farmers and manufacturers saw disruptions in the supply chain which led them to shut down temporarily or permanently. Labor shortages and higher wages were reflected in the raised menu prices for customers. At the same time, global food prices were also increasing but the start of the war in Ukraine in early 2022 exacerbated these trends. Evidently, the war has put significant pressure on global food inflation which began to increase first in developing countries and then in developed ones.

COVID-19 Pandemic 

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the COVID-19 pandemic continues to mark our lives in numerous ways which includes inflation. Although, a global pandemic like this one is rare, this means that there is less information for policymakers to rely on regarding decision-making protocol during periods of emergency. According to a White House statement on prices during the pandemic, three temporary factors have contributed primarily to the increase in inflation: 

  1. base effects,
  2. supply chain disruptions and misalignments, and
  3. pent-up demand. 

Base effects occur when “the base, or initial month, of a growth rate is unusually low or high.” Supply chain disruptions arise when the cost of production increases and businesses decide to pass on higher prices to consumers. Finally, pent-up demand during the pandemic has led to a surge in consumers eating out at restaurants. But as Americans find less food options available compared to pre-pandemic levels, restaurant prices may increase as a result. Optimistically, the authors believe that these factors will be “transitory,” fade over time, and mimic America’s behavior following past wars and pandemics. But they do warn that history is “not a perfect guide” either.

Several sectors have experienced product shortages during the pandemic, Econofact.

Future Outlook on Food Inflation

While history may not be able to predict our future exactly, we have tools today to get a picture of what is likely to come. According to the USDA, food prices, food-at-home prices, and food-away-from-home prices are expected to “grow more slowly in 2023 than in 2022” but will remain above “historical average rates.” According to President Joe Biden’s recent statement on Personal Consumption Expenditures in October, inflation moderated and the nation is on their way to “more steady, stable economic growth” and food inflation has also slowed.

“How people believe prices are going to behave in the future plays an important role because inflation expectations can sometimes become self-fulfilling.”

– Alberto Cavallo, Associate Professor Harvard Business School

The Impact of Rising Food Prices on Consumers and Low-income Households

The rise in food prices is reflected in the changing consumer habits. According to CNN, more consumers are searching for deals, switching to off-brand choices, and eating at less pricey restaurants like IHOP and Applebee’s. Others have started shopping at cheaper grocers and buying store-bought items instead of making them at home. Most worryingly, one respondent stated that once she can afford it, she will “go back to buying more fruits and veggies.” In Los Angeles County, 12.1% of adults reported consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables the previous day and the rate rose with education and income. It is not difficult to understand how income can affect buying habits. Increasing food prices do not affect everyone equally. According to Rory Smead, an associate professor at Northeastern, those in the “middle class and reasonably comfortable” will not feel the impacts as much as those “working in the margins.” So with the rise in food inflation and daily fruit and vegetable consumption rates already fairly low at least in Los Angeles, a county with a high rate of food insecurity, we should be very concerned about how rising prices are affecting the long term health of low-income households.

Rates of different age groups in fruit and vegetable consumption in Los Angeles, Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center, p. 94

COVID-19 Pandemic and Food Insecurity

According to the White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the COVID-19 pandemic “exacerbated food insecurity, diet-related diseases, and health disparities” and disrupted a decade-long downward trend in food insecure households with children (p. 6). In 2021, the USDA reported that 13.5 million (10.2%) US households were food insecure at some point during the year while 8.4 million (6.4%) US households reported low food security. In California, 8 million residents struggle with food insecurity and in Los Angeles County, 30% of low-income residents don’t know where their next meal will come from. NYU also found that the pandemic increased food insecurity especially among families with children and that school closures made it more difficult for children to access meals through the National School Lunch program.

National School Lunch Program lunches served 1971-2021, USDA

Food Insecurity During the Holidays

The holiday season can be the busiest times of year for food banks and with the impact of the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine on inflation and food prices, food-insecure households and individuals are even more vulnerable during this time of year. Additionally, as schools close for the winter break, students who benefit from the National School Lunch Program temporarily lose access to a source of food. 

As we continue to ease the pandemic restrictions on everyday life, economic instability and uncertainty remain. That is why the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is so important. In its first pillar, The National Strategy recognizes the need for economic security and providing Americans and their families with more income through expanding the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the minimum wage.

In the meantime, families need to eat now which is what many organizations and groups are focused on throughout the country year-round.

Food Finders

Food Finders, anticipating the increased need during the holidays, holds an annual Holiday Food Drive to collect food for their non-profit partners. It begins October 1st through December 31st. Throughout November, Food Finders held a Turkey Drive and during their Holiday Pack and Sort event on November 19th and 20th, the organization distributed 2,322 food boxes for agencies to provide for families and assembled a total of 4,231 boxes. They also distributed 2,600 turkeys during the event and provided an additional 200 turkeys and 100 hams during the month of December.

What Can You Do To Help?

Food Finders works daily to change how food waste is distributed to eliminate hunger and food insecurity. If you would like more information, please visit our website, volunteer, or support our mission to eliminate hunger and food waste by making a donation today.

#inflation #hunger #foodprices #pandemic #covid19 #foodinsecurity

Nickee O’Bryant is the Community Outreach and Advocacy Intern at Food Finders. She is a senior at California State University, Long Beach and is studying International Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Through monthly blog posts, Nickee documents her journey as she learns more about food insecurity, food waste, and how they are interconnected.


Food Insecurity and Food Waste: A Review of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health


On September 28, 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration held the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. As Food Finders’ new Outreach and Advocacy intern, I have been asked to review the conference, which is the first of its kind in over 50 years. The goal of the conference is to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity in order to reduce diet-related diseases in Americans by 2030. The Biden-Harris administration announced that they had received over $8 billion in private- and public-sector commitments. There are over 20 partners, including AARP, Chobani, Doordash, Google, and the University of California System. Each group pledges to create programs that address food-insecure vulnerable populations by improving access to nutrition programs in the United States. 

The areas I will cover in the post are:

  • the five pillars identified in the National Strategy,
  • how the pillars relate to Food Finders’ mission, and 
  • what is missing from the strategy.

[Photo 1: President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on Sept. 28, 2022, Link]

“Together, we can build a healthier future for all Americans” – President Joe Biden

The Five Pillars of the National Strategy

The National Strategy identified five hefty pillars to address hunger, nutrition, and health:

  1. Improve food access and affordability.
  2. Integrate nutrition and health.
  3. Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices.
  4. Support physical activity for all.
  5. Enhance nutrition and food security research.

Each pillar aims to address issues that plague our communities and promote healthier lifestyles for children and families through improving access to healthy foods, safe locations for physical activity, and nutrition and health education. The fifth pillar, which focuses on food security research, encompasses all the pillars. Increasing research in these areas would allow organizations to understand just how current and new programs and implementations are impacting the issue of food insecurity. 

[Photo 2: Impacts of Food Insecurity from the White House National Strategy (page 6) Link]

Pillar 1 and Food Finders

While each pillar is important, Pillar 1 aligns the most with Food Finders’ current mission, which is to eliminate hunger and food waste and improve nutrition in food-insecure communities. The first pillar aims to reduce hunger and increase access to healthy meals for everyone first by “helping all Americans become economically secure” through the expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit and increasing the minimum wage (p. 8). Increasing the incomes of households is an incredibly important step toward increasing access to healthy foods. While this pillar focuses on the economic side of food insecurity, Food Finders works to get food directly to those who need it. Food Finders has several programs, such as the Food Rescue Program, Food4Kids, and community Food Hubs. The organization coordinates daily pick-ups of surplus food from grocers, schools, and restaurants through each program. It distributes the food directly to pantries, shelters, youth programs, and senior centers for either hot meals or grocery distribution. Overall, their goal is to keep food from going to waste and divert it to adults, families, and children who need it the most.  

Panels on the pillars

The White House held ten panels on the National Strategy Pillars. Each pillar had two panels, and the agenda for each panel and its corresponding YouTube link can be found here. The first panel for Pillar 1 is “Nourishing Brighter Futures: Ensuring affordable food for all children and families.” This panel features several experts discussing the common barriers to food access, such as the stigma around food insecurity and inadequate wages. The discussion emphasizes the importance of nutrition education for children and improving children’s access to food at home for families and at school.

[Photo 3: Panel 1A Mike Curtin, Jr. moderates a conversation with Shavana Howard, Donna Martin, Mark Ramos, and Shannon Razsadin, YouTube]

What is Missing From the Strategy?: The Importance of Food Waste

Despite the enormous negative impact of food waste on the environment, the White House National Strategy dedicates only five bullet points to address food recovery. When uneaten food piles up at the landfill, the decomposition process releases huge amounts of methane gas, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Wasting food also wastes freshwater, cropland, and fertilizer, not to mention the time and effort put into planting and harvesting the crops by farmers and agricultural workers. 

[Photo 4: Environmental Impact of Food that is Produced But Never Eaten, ReFED]

The Strategy cites the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as leading resources for preventing food loss and waste. But it does not mention food surpluses due to overproduction or the efforts of local community organizations to allocate food to the right places. The document also ensures that the Department of the Treasury will “clarify the enhanced charitable deduction calculation to support businesses donating food”. Still, it does not mention the need to support farmers to harvest unprofitable crops due to cosmetic reasons (p. 14). The State of Pennsylvania has a program that does this. Later, in the Call to Action, the Administration asks to state, local, and territory governments to “enact food waste reduction and recovery policies such as providing tax incentives to food donors” (p. 16).

According to ReFED, 40% of all food is not eaten, while over 50 million Americans remain food insecure. To Food Finders, the issue and solution are obvious, and the organization combines both of these problems to promote a mission that prioritizes sustainability over consumerism and overproduction. In 2021 alone, Food Finders rescued 7.2 billion gallons of water, 8.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and provided 13.2 million meals to Southern Californians. This year the organization expects to surpass those numbers. 

Although the National Strategy is far-reaching in its mission to increase access to healthy foods for Americans, it fails to adequately highlight the need to reduce food waste and its subsequent detrimental impacts on our environment. It also fails to highlight the connection between reducing food insecurity through reducing food waste. While governmental organizations are pushing for change, it would have been very powerful for the White House to give more attention to this aspect of the hunger issue. However, this slight oversight only fortifies Food Finders’ determination to increase the visibility of their efforts on a local and regional level and the efforts of other anti-food waste organizations in the United States. 

What Can You Do To Help?

Food Finders works daily to change how food waste is distributed to eliminate hunger and food insecurity. If you would like more information, please visit our website, volunteer, or help our operations by making a donation.

#Hunger #Nutrition #Health #WhiteHouse #FoodFinders

Whay Wate Food Wednesday InternFood Waste

An Interns Journey to Fight Food Waste and Reduce Hunger


By Kelly Alarcon

As a full-time Nutrition and Dietetics student and intern at Food Finders, nutrition and reducing hunger and food waste are an important part of my life.  I learned in my junior year of school at California State, Long Beach how many people in the United States go to bed hungry every night, so many of them children, and my heart broke.  I knew then that my passion for nutrition and eating for wellness was not all I was passionate about.

 I quickly became vested in learning how I could not only educate people on the benefits of healthy eating but also help reduce food waste while getting that food to those in need. 

Student, Kelly Alarcon

I realized that in addition to my love of nutrition, my knack for meal planning and shopping on a limited budget was something that could play a big part in helping people to reduce food waste. The question for me was how could I combine these two skills and make a bigger impact? 

Food Waste is a Problem

Food waste is a huge problem in the United States with the vast majority of waste occurring in the home.  Poor planning and expiration dates on the food we purchase are large contributors.  Many would rather toss food they aren’t sure about, which affects the environment and wastes billions of gallons of water each and every month.

43% of food waste stat

Food Finders is an amazing solution to the food waste problem. They have a mission to “eliminate hunger and food waste” through the rescue of food in Southern California, and then they repurpose that food through a network of local community partners. I especially like the final part of their mission: “…while improving nutrition in food insecure communities.”

That is why I am an intern and a Nutrition Talks Educator with them. I have seen some amazing things while working here and for me, the most impressive is that last year, in 2021 they rescued 15,917,982 pounds of food!

Food that became over 13 million meals.

Resources and Education

USDA Food Keepers App

We are working hard to provide education and resources that explain not only how to properly store food but how to interpret the various expiration dates we see on food such as “use by”, ‘sell by” etc.  

The FoodKeepers application supported by the USDA is a great resource to help people sort through the confusing world of labels and dates.  It can help you not only interpret the varying expiration date labels but can also explain the best storage methods for various foods to reduce waste.  

Meal Planning

Meal planning is one of the biggest ways that all of us can stop food waste.  Who hasn’t gone to the grocery store hungry and bought more than they needed?

When you plan your meals, or even just your shopping, it reduces food waste.  And don’t forget that planning ahead is also easy on your wallet–a big plus!  Planning your meals for the week and then creating your shopping list based on your meals can cut food waste by 15% or more.  Imagine if we all did that?!

Tip For Cutting Food Waste

  • Shop the grocery store weekly ads. With the cost of food up by 25% or more, finding proteins that are on sale that week is where I start my meal planning.
  • DO NOT go to the store hungry. Going grocery shopping hungry guarantees I will buy some overpriced and over-processed snacks that I promptly eat on the way home.  This not only takes me out of budget but is unhealthy.  
  • I stick to your list that coordinates with the meals you want to make for the week.
  • Prepare your fruits and veggies for the week–so they don’t go bad.  If I have salads planned I pre-cut and wash my lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, and cucumbers. I also wash and cut up any melons or fruit for the week as well.  Doing this makes busy weeks easier and allows for a nutritious snack of fruit that is easy to grab.

Nutrition Talks Program

nutrition talks from Food finders1

This is all information I use when in a Nutrition Talk event with one of our partner agencies.  I do a basic overview of nutrition and its importance with interactive tools that keep people engaged in what they are learning. One example is my Nutrition Facts Label workshop which starts with a scavenger hunt looking for a pantry item with a nutrition facts label and ties up with a Q & A on what was learned.  This coming week’s talk will also have Isabel Gallegos, my supervisor and co-creator of the Nutrition Talks Program. We will be looking in the partner agencies’ refrigerators and pantries to create a meal with what they have deemed as surplus foods that they have indicated typically go to waste.  It is an eye-opening event!

This is just one more of what Food Finders does to reduce hunger and food waste.  It isn’t enough that we are getting food into the hands of those who are in need but also to educate them on the many nutrient-dense meals that can be created while reducing waste.   

Resources for Seniors

#StopFoodWasteWednesday #nutritiontalks #tipsforzerowaste #foodfindersinc


Kelly Alarcon, a Student at California State University, Long Beach with a concentration in Nutrition and Dietetics has a passion for showing others the path to wellness through nutrition while reducing hunger and food waste.

Nutrition Talks Cooking Demo image 1