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Food insecurity, health privilege and COVID-19

  • 01 September 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has heightened pre-existing food insecurity on a global scale. In Australia, limits have been placed on the purchasing of essential items such as canned goods which resulted in an upsurge of consumer demand. Empty shelves sparked fear in shoppers and created a self-fulfilling prophecy where long-lasting goods were difficult to find.

Thankfully, these temporary shortages have not impacted the health of most Australians and were a result of changes in supply chains rather than shortages of food. Panic buying fears have subsided since the announcement of the first lockdown.

A survey revealed that stockpilers were more likely to be people under financial and personal stress. This could be surmised as a result of low-income earners wishing to avoid an increase in their pre-existing food insecurity. But for many families living pay check to pay check, stocking up on essentials is not feasible, especially for those experiencing a noticeable reduction in income.

While financial stability allows for easier access to essential items and services, it decreases anxiety associated with purchasing cheap food. Canned and long-life foods such as beans, tomatoes and rice are staples for many low-income families who are unable to purchase fresh or pre-cooked meals. The general health of low-income and marginalised communities was lower than that of higher income communities before the pandemic as a result of decreased access to essential resources such as food. 

Australia is equal first for having the lowest rates of undernourishment and are in the top ten countries for food availability and yet a lack of access to food was a source of anxiety for many financially stable Australians. This led me to consider the broader ramifications of COVID-19’s disruption of the food supply chain and pre-existing failures of global food systems.

The global impact of COVID-19 has further increased inequality in food security, with nations already facing widespread famine, malnutrition and food insecurity being hit the hardest. The 2020 Global Nutrition Report was composed before the COVID-19 epidemic but recognises the importance of well-being in the protection of vulnerable populations. It is recognised that due to weaker immune systems, malnourished populations may be at greater risk of experiencing worsened health outcomes and complications associated with the virus than those who are not malnourished.

'Financial privilege fosters a degree of health privilege when it comes to access to appropriate food and healthcare.'

The circumstances in which people ‘grow, live, work, and age, and the systems put