This week, I decided to write about an aspect of food security that is often not factored into the equation – the complications of celiac disease on food security, in North America in particular.
Celiac disease is a genetic intolerance to gluten – found in wheat and therefore most of what we eat today – causing inflammation of the digestive tract and interference with the absorption of nutrients. For those with the disease, in varying degrees of sensitivity, a lifelong gluten-free (GF) diet is the only cure*.
Celiac disease is now 4 times as prevalent as it was 60 years ago*, and highest in Western Europe and the U.S*. Suspicious that the richest region of the world, the region that historically consumed almost all of the world’s wheat, is most afflicted by this disease, isn’t it?!. One hypothesis is that more human immune systems are rejecting wheat because of what this ancient grain has become: a genetically modified and hybridized crop seen in all commercial American fields. This technological wheat is heavily subsidized by governments to increase yields and export to an increasingly wheat-hungry world. Check out the great documentary “A Place at The Table” for a ton more information on tackling America’s food security issues. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xbPna-Qh3Jo
Nearly half of American children will receive food stamps in their lifetime, which average out to about $4 a day for food*. The struggle to put food on the table is severely worsened when a family member must eat GF foods. One blogger (http://celiacandthebeast.com/2013/04/food-bloggers-against-hunger/) calculated that she spends more than 3 times that amount ($13) on essential gluten-free food per day.
The increasing rate of this disease is not something that is likely to go away. Within the past two years, three of my friends have developed an intolerance to gluten, although they all ate it as kids. The limited availability and high cost of GF foods greatly limits poor families’ access to a nutritious diet. Although the Global South is always a major focus of food security issues, I hope this article has shed some light on systemic hunger issues that exist within North America as well.