Welcome to the Table of Terms section. Here you will find definitions and/or descriptions for each of the 31 food and nutrition security terms used among diverse agencies, organizations, and programs. Most of these terms have multiple definitions and descriptions. This Primer provides up to two definitions/descriptions for each term with the intent to offer a research-based and a community-based definition/description, when available.

last update: 2024-01-10


  • The following table offers a list of food and nutrition security terms referenced in readily available literature on the internet at a point in time as defined by “last updates” at the top of the webpage. It will be updated as definitions, descriptions, and usage evolve. Check back to find recent updates and additions.
  • The terms in the table include:
    • one or more definitions for each term as publicly provided by an agency, organization or program. Sources include federal programs, research institutions, non-governmental organizations, advocacy organizations, and others.
    • links to reference and resources for more information.
    • keywords which offer considerations for each term’s context. Keywords offer a means to quickly understand what a term includes and may help with identifying the subtle differences between terms.
  • This evolving resource will grow over time. This webpage will be regularly updated as the definitions and usage evolve. Please check back regularly to find recent updates and additions.

Please note that terms denoted with a broken heart may unintentionally be hurtful or harmful to others. Read more here


TermKey WordsDefinition/Description
Community Food Securityfood access; food safety; nutrition; sustainable agriculture; local food systems; culturally acceptable food; social justice A situation in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice. Source: University of Florida IFAS Extension; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
First Food Desertbreastfeeding, social and economic dynamics Geographic areas where social and economic dynamics unequally constrain breastfeeding when compared with other locations. Places often classified where broader forces present such consistently large obstacles to breastfeeding success in predominantly black and also low-income areas of the United States. Source: Erica Morrell. First Food Justice: Infant Feeding Disparities and the First Food System. Breastfeeding Medicine.Oct 2017.489-492. and Correction to: First Food Justice: Infant Feeding Disparities and the First Food System, by Morrell E. Breastfeed Med. 2018 Mar;13(2):161.; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
First Food Justiceracial disparities, infant feeding To take action on first food deserts and racial disparities in infant feeding. First food justice is about creating accessible, supportive, policies and environments to enable breastfeeding and chestfeeding people to give their infant optimal nutrition. Source: Andrea Freeman, “First Food” Justice: Racial Disparities in Infant Feeding As Food Oppression, 83 Fordham L. Rev. 3053 (2015).; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food and Nutrition Securityphysical access to food; social access to food; economic access to food; safe food; sufficient quantity; sufficient quality; health equity; social determinants of health Food and nutrition security means having reliable access to enough high-quality food to avoid hunger and stay healthy. Improving access to nutritious food supports overall health, reduces chronic diseases, and helps people avoid unnecessary health care. Source: HHS, CDC; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Apartheidapartheid; control; discrimination; food desert, food swamp; hunger; justice; poverty; racism; self-determination Food apartheid more accurately describes what it means not to have food access in the US. Source: T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
The systematic destruction of Black self determination to control our food (including land, resource theft and discrimination), a hyper-saturation of destructive foods and predatory marketing, and a blatantly discriminatory corporate controlled food system that results in our communities suffering from some of the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes of all times. Source: National Black Food & Justice Alliance and Dara Cooper(co-founder of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance); Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food As/Is Medicinefood access, availability; chronic disease management; health; medical nutrition therapy; nutrition security, prevention; treatment Considered "a spectrum of programs and services that respond to the critical link between nutrition and health, integrated into healthcare delivery. Examples: programs that provide nutritionally appropriate food, for free or at a discount to individuals, to support disease management, disease prevention, or optimal health, as part of or linked to the health care system as a component of an individual’s treatment plan." Source: Informing the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health – 2022 Task Force Report and Interventions for Food is Medicine are based on findings in this research: Downer S, Berkowitz SA, Harlan TS, Olstad DL, Mozaffarian D. Food is medicine: actions to integrate food and nutrition into healthcare. BMJ. 2020 Jun 29;369:m2482. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2482. PMID: 32601089; PMCID: PMC7322667; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food as Medicine is a philosophy where food and nutrition aids individuals through interventions that support health and wellness. Focus areas include:
  • Food as preventative medicine to encourage health and well-being;
  • Food as medicine in disease management and treatment;
  • Food as medicine to improve nutrition security; and
  • Food as medicine to promote food safety.
Food as medicine is a reaffirmation that food and nutrition play a role in sustaining health, preventing disease, and as a therapy for those with conditions or in situations responsive to changes in their diet. Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Desertcensus tract; food access; availability; neighborhood; nonmetropolitan, rural, urban; retail food distribution; concentration; measurement The application of the food desert concept in the U.S. elucidates a great divide between those with and without access to low cost, high quality foods. Source: A study by Mississippi State University & Cornell University; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Low-income census tracts with a substantial number or share of residents with low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable foods. Source: USDA; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Dignityagency; choice; community-based participatory research; community organizing; food security; food justice Being able to feed your family what you believe is healthy and right promotes dignity.

Food Dignity–aims to convey both a statement of values and a hypothesis. The ethical stance is that human and community agency in food systems is an end in itself. Our hypothesis is that expanding such agency, especially within communities dealing with food insecurity, will improve the sustainability and equity of our local food systems and economies. Source: Food Dignity and USDA Food Dignity Project; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Equityaccess to food; community-based; control; fairness; food apartheid; health equity; healthy food supply; public, private, and charitable sectors; food chain: food production, processing, distribution, retail; food recovery; recycling; waste; racial equity; food awareness, knowledge, skills, preparation A healthy food supply, in both public and private sectors, and through the charitable system. Access to affordable, good food in all communities. Vegetables, beans, fruits and other nutritious food must reach all communities. Awareness, knowledge and skills that empower people everywhere to select good foods and to quickly prepare them at home. Source: Partnership For A Healthier America; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
An equitable food system is one that creates a new paradigm in which all — including those most vulnerable and those living in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color — can fully participate, prosper, and benefit. It is a system that, from farm to table, from processing to disposal, ensures economic opportunity; high-quality jobs with living wages; safe working conditions; access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food; and environmental sustainability. Source: Policy Link; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Insecurityfood insecurity; dietary quality and variety; quantity of food; uncertain availability (of food); limited, uncertain acquisition (of food) Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

Food insecurity: Since the food security measure uses multiple items, it covers households worrying about food running out, dietary quality and variety, and quantity of food consumed. Food insecurity is measured at two levels of severity. In households with low food security, the hardships experienced are primarily reductions in dietary quality and variety. In households with very low food security, the hardships experienced are reduced food intake and skipped meals. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Insecurity as a Social Determinant of Healthfood insecurity; low food security; very low food security; nutrition security; food and nutrition security; social determinants of health Food insecurity is defined as a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food "that may be influenced by a number of factors, including income, employment, race/ethnicity, and disability."

Low food security: Reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.

Very low food security: Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. Source: HHS, HP2030 and HHS, HP2030; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Insufficiencyfood insufficiency; enough to eat; severity; very low food security Food insufficiency means that households sometimes or often did not have enough to eat.

Food insufficiency: The food insufficiency question provides relatively little detail on the food hardship experienced and indicates only whether a household had enough to eat. Food insufficiency is a more severe condition than food insecurity and measures whether a household generally has enough to eat. In this way, food insufficiency is closer in severity to very low food security than to overall food insecurity. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Justiceuniversal access; nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate food; disparities in food access, land ownership, agricultural practices, distribution of technology and resources; workers’ rights; historical injustices; communities of color Those working for Food Justice work to "ensure universal access to nutritious, affordable, and culturally-appropriate food for all and advocate for the well-being and safety of those involved all along the food chain." Those working for Food Justice aim to address disparities in food access by examining the structural roots of food systems. Food Justice addresses "questions of land ownership, agricultural practices, distribution of technology and resources, workers’ rights, historical injustices faced by communities of color" and is "intertwined with environmental justice and sustainability movements." Source: Boston University Community Service Center; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
A process whereby communities most impacted and exploited by our current corporate controlled, extractive agricultural system shift power to re-shape, re-define and provide indigenous, community based solutions to accessing and controlling food that are humanizing, fair, healthy, accessible, racially equitable, environmentally sound and just. Source: National Black Food & Justice Alliance and Dara Cooper(co-founder of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance); Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Miragefood affordability and access; income; distance, proximity In a food mirage, grocery stores are plentiful but prices are beyond the means of low-income households, making them functionally equivalent to food deserts in that a long journey to obtain affordable, nutritious food is required in either case. Source: Science Direct; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Scarcityfood scarcity; food insufficiency Percentage of adults in households where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last 7 days. Source: U.S. Census Bureau (Reference period is 7 days); Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Securityfood security; food insecurity; equity Access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food for all people at all times. Source: GusNIP Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
access; availability; nutritionally adequate; safe Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum: The ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods; Assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Sovereigntyculturally appropriate, cultural diversity, food access; food production; food distribution; food systems; people first; power; relationships; rights; self-determination "Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” – Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007. Source: Nyéléni International Movement For Food Sovereignty and U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
There’s no universal definition for food sovereignty, but it can be described as the ability of communities to determine the quantity and quality of the food that they consume by controlling how their food is produced and distributed. Source: U.S. Department of the Interior – Indian Affairs; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Stabilityfood availability, access; food security; food utilization Food stability is when a population, household, or individual has access to food at all times and does not risk losing access as a consequence of cyclical events, such as the dry season." Source: Open Oregon Educational Resources; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Food Swampfast food; food access; food desert; fruit/vegetable availability; junk food; retail zoning; structural racism; urban Neighborhoods that have relatively easy access to less healthy foods compared with access to healthy foods. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Neighborhoods where fast food and junk food inundate healthy alternatives. Areas with a high-density of establishments selling high-calorie fast food and junk food, relative to healthier food options. Source: IJERPH; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Foodwaysculinary practice; culture; eating habits; food knowledge; generations; similarities and differences The eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period. Source: Science Direct; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Foodways as a discipline examines the role of food and food-related behavior in cultural groups, and the ways in which food knowledge is transferred within and varies between different societies. Source: University of Washington Library, Anthropology: Foodways web resource; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Health Equityhealth disparities; social determinants of health; economic obstacles; injustices Is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Achieving this requires focused and ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices; overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare; and eliminate preventable health disparities. Source: HHS, CDC; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
High Food Securityno food access problems; no food access limitations High food security (old label=Food security): no reported indications of food-access problems or limitations. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Hungerindividual level; physiologic condition Hunger is an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
consequence of food insecurity; involuntary lack of food The term hunger refers to a potential consequence of food insecurity. Hunger is discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain caused by prolonged, involuntary lack of food. Source: HP2030; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Limited Access to Healthy Foodsfood access; food availability; built environment; references USDA definition Percent of population that is low-income (below 200% the Federal Poverty Level) and does not live close to a grocery store (more than 10 miles for rural and 1 mile for non-rural). Source: HHS, HRSA; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Low Food Securityreduced diet quality; reduced diet variety; reduced desirability of diet Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Marginal Food Securityanxiety over food sufficiency or food in the house Marginal food security (old label=Food security): one or two reported indications—typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Medically Tailored Mealschronic illnesses; dietary therapy; evidence-based; food is medicine; medical nutrition therapy; nutrition assessment; treatment Medically tailored meals (MTM) are meals approved by a RDN that reflect appropriate dietary therapy based on evidence-based practice guidelines. Diet/meals are recommended by a RDN based on a nutritional assessment and a referral by a health care provider to address a medical diagnosis, symptoms, allergies, medication management and side effects to ensure the best possible nutrition-related health outcomes. Source: Food Is Medicine Coalition; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Nutrition Equityfood security; health equity, participatory research; racial disparities; food systems The state of having freedom, agency, and dignity in food traditions resulting in people and communities healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Source: Freedman, D.A., et al.,Food system dynamics structuring nutrition equity in racialized urban neighborhoods. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 115, 1027–1038, 2022; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Nutrition Securityconsistent and equitable access to food; consistent availability of food; affordability; equity Consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, and affordable foods that promote optimal health and wellbeing. Source: USDA-FNS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Nutrition security means all Americans have consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable foods essential to optimal health and well-being. Our approach to tackling food and nutrition insecurity aims to: Recognize all Americans are not maintaining an active, healthy life that is consistent with Federal recommendations; and Emphasize taking an equity lens to our efforts. Source: USDA-FNS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Right to Foodall people; food availability, accessibility, adequacy; human dignity; human rights The right to food is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of the right to an adequate standard of living.

The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.

Generally understood as the right to feed oneself in dignity, the right to adequate food is a long-standing international human right to which many countries are committed. Source: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights and FAO; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.
Very Low Food Securitydisrupted eating patterns; very low food intake Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. Source: USDA-ERS; Date accessed: 01-05-2024.


  1. White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: Session Recordings, 09-28-2022
  2. White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: National Strategy, 09-28-2022
  3. White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: Website
  4. Defining Food Insecurity and Measuring it During COVID-19, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Date accessed: 09-14-2022
  5. Definitions of Food Security, USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), Date accessed: 09-14-2022
  6. Prioritizing Nutrition Security in the US, Viewpoint” editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Academy (JAMA), Date accessed: 09-14-2022
  7. Research Framework that is a multi-dimensional model depicting a wide array of health determinants relevant to understanding and addressing minority health and health disparities, The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), HHS, Date accessed: 09-14-2022



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