This resource will deepen our understanding of the rapidly changing and increasing number of food and nutrition security terms. Here you will find background information with an emphasis on why terminology matters. There is also a table with terms and definitions used by national food, nutrition, and health programs and organizations. This resource is comprised of four web pages, which you can navigate by clicking the links in the color bar above.
last update: 2023-07-24
AS PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS, we have long recognized the importance of nutrition and food security, promoting and connecting people to sources of nutrient-rich food for maintaining health.
The impact of the pandemic stressed the nation’s food systems, and induced a surge of food insecurity, with highest rates among Black, Indigenous, and Latino individuals. Access to healthful food everyday to ensure health and well-being became part of mainstream conversations which exposed the deep roots of systematic racism in our food systems, a leading cause of food insecurity.
New priorities, possibilities, and partners have emerged in a concerted effort to achieve food and nutrition security. As a result, many food and nutrition terms have surfaced or resurfaced to describe where we are and where we want to be. We offer this resource to help us understand one another while we work together to ensure equitable access to healthy, safe, and affordable food.
An agency’s or program’s description of a food or nutrition term provides context for their focus and goals, giving the public health nutritionist insight into roles to support them. For example, does the term description include “access” or “diet quality?” These descriptors require different approaches.
People’s lived experiences influence their understanding of terms. Nutritionists benefit from knowing a term’s origins, definitions or descriptions, and having awareness of how it is used to tailor their messages for clear communication to an audience. Word choice can carry influence (e.g., policy making and program funding), cause confusion (e.g., food security versus food sufficiency), or elicit an emotional response (e.g., “Swamp? I don’t live in a swamp!”).
Recent conversations with public health nutritionists working in or with food and nutrition programs revealed many lacked confidence to be able to accurately describe new and emerging food and nutrition terms’ meaning to a lay person. Terms such as food apartheid, food insufficiency, food justice, food sovereignty, and food swamp topped the list. Nutritionists requested a resource that could be used to build common understanding of terms with partners and within their programs.
What is a term? Merriam Webster defines term as “a word or expression that has a precise meaning in some uses or is peculiar to a science, art, profession, or subject.” Some federally-funded nutrition programs as well as other national agencies and organizations, and food and nutrition security researchers, advocates, and stakeholders don’t consistently use the same definition for some terms, leading to confusion. Also, terms evolve as the issues for which they were created become better understood through continued study.
Food, food system, hunger and nutrition researchers, practitioners, advocates, and others create and modify terms to describe, study, and monitor past and current nutrition and public health conditions. Some are formulated through scientific research, some are adaptations of other terms used nationally and/or internationally to better align with an organization’s desired outcomes, and some are adapted to represent communities’ lived experience and observations.
Definitions or descriptions of concepts or terms (e.g., food apartheid, food insecurity, food desert) use similar key words and descriptors related to accessibility, affordability, diet quality, quantity, equity, safety, knowledge, ability, culturally appropriate, health, well-being, social determinants of health, and sustainability.
Some public health nutritionists use these terms in describing program goals and strategies, and are seeking ways to measure and show impact on food and nutrition security and progress toward food justice.
Please use the link below to connect with us on food and nutrition security. You can share what you’re doing to increase healthy eating and end hunger. Tell us what terms you’re hearing that we haven’t covered. And let us know if you want more information, training, or technical assistance on this topic.
We encourage you to share this resource with your colleagues by using the SHARE links below. Please note that the links may not be accessible on all browsers. If you experience difficulty, please copy and share this URL.
"…(this primer) would be useful as a quick resource to share with community partners and new employees."
"Terms are similar; food security vs nutrition security ... The general public needs to understand the nuanced differences."
"This (primer) will be useful as a policy person. We need a standardized language when talking with legislators."