Diabetes. Heart disease. High blood pressure. Depression. These are some of the factors the CDC found were constants among people suffering from food insecurity.
Wayne Cannon is the manager of the Peoria Area Food Bank. He said two types of people make use of their food emergency system: those on tight incomes who may skimp on groceries to make ends meet; and people suffering from chronic illnesses. Often, those illnesses are linked to food insecurity.
“We talk about how to improve the system, how to improve the system. The key is to make sure how do we improve the lives of those who rely on the system. And our number one goal is hungry people," Cannon said.
Cannon said the healthcare costs of food insecurity are $30 million a year in Peoria County, $7 million in Tazewell County, and $2 million annually in Mason County.
"Because folks who, because of their diet, because of obesity, because of all these other chronic illnesses, who use the food emergency system, causes this cycle of health concerns, healthcare costs, that we are all paying for," Cannon said.
He said improving access to fresh foods and reinforcing positive eating habits would improve health outcomes and allow some of that money to be used instead for roads and schools.
Cannon was one of the attendees of the "What's Our Recipe?" summit hosted by the Ending Hunger Together Collaborative at the FOLEPI Building in East Peoria on Thursday. The summit included representatives from health departments, food banks and pantries from Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties.
The keynote speaker at the Ending Hunger Summit said organizations should start thinking about not just food insecurity, but the underlying poverty that causes it.
Andy Fisher is the author of “Big Hunger.”
“We’re focusing on the Band-Aid, on the surface, on the symptoms of the issues, rather than focusing on the root causes. So as a result, we just keep perpetuating the problem without really ever solving it," he said.
Fisher suggests changes like food banks should advocate for changes for a fifteen dollar minimum wage that lift people out of poverty, and should lobby to remove unhealthy products like soda from SNAP coverage.
Fisher admits those aims may be seen as politically charged by some. But he said even incentivizing the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers' markets can be a win-win for both farmers and families.
Cannon agrees that attacking poverty is important in combating food insecurity. But he said the issues at poverty's roots, like scarcity and greed, are as old as mankind themselves. Still, he said we have a greater responsibility to make the effort and help others.
"You know, there's quite a few of us, you know, who take things for granted. But still, we still need to take care of our brother, because we're still their keeper," Cannon said.