DoD Wants to Reduce Food Insecurity in the Military
It’s a simple question. Why does the Department of Defense, a federal agency with an $800 billion-plus budget, have an issue with some of its troops going hungry or having limited access to nutritional food? And no simple answers are forthcoming in 2024. However, according to a government report issued in December, the DoD is taking steps to reduce food access in the ranks in the new year.
The Department of Defense wants to reduce the risk of food insecurity among military families in 2024. In spite of the announcements that “Nothing is more important to the Department’s senior leaders” than taking care of the troops, food insecurity continues to plague the ranks, especially brand new troops and first-term enlisted.
What is Food Insecurity in the Military?
Instead of relying on a dusty academic description of food insecurity, it is important to know how the DoD views the problem. Here’s the definition of food insecurity as it applies to the military from the DoD official site:
“When a household reports characteristics that qualify as low or very low food security, the USDA classifies that household as food insecure. Food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
The DoD adds, “Food insecurity, however, does not necessarily mean that members of that household are ‘going hungry.’ Hunger is a physical condition caused by the lack of food itself, while food insecurity is defined as a lack of access to certain qualities and quantities of food.”
You don’t have to miss any meals to suffer from food insecurity issues.
Increased Food Insecurity For Troops in the New Year?
Military.com reported in December 2023, “One study, conducted at an unnamed Army base by Army Public Health Center, found that, out of a sample of nearly 5,000 soldiers, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the percentage of food-insecure troops to almost double from 16% to 31%.”
Some will complain about the increase. Others look at the original 16% number and ask why the DoD allowed those troops to become food insecure in the first place.
Consider some of the content of the 2023 DoD report Strengthening Food Security in the Force: Building on Our Progress, describing efforts meant to reduce hunger in the ranks.
“Efforts to address the disparity in access to food include the implementation of 26 Army food trucks, 11 operational kiosks, and 3 bistros that are programmed and budgeted.”
When you remember that a single Army Blackhawk helicopter costs anywhere between $6 and $15 million on the low end, the idea of relieving food insecurity among enlisted members with a food truck seems a bit of an afterthought.
Obviously, the DoD is doing more than this (see below), but it also has a major PR problem when its junior troops suffer financial insecurity after volunteering to serve.
DoD Findings on Food Insecurity
In December 2023, the Department of Defense released a report titled Strengthening Food Security in the Force: Building on Our Progress.
This report notes some of the issues facing low-income junior enlisted troops. It lists the following measures taken to reduce the threat of hunger amongst those who have made military service commitments.
- Created Basic Needs Allowance
- Increased the Basic Allowance for Housing
- Increased Basic Allowance for Subsistence
- More savings at commissaries
- Expanded childcare options
- Revised child care fee schedule
- Introduced a Military Spouse Career Accelerator pilot program
- Introduced a study to understand the causes of food insecurity in junior ranks
Addressing the Problem in 2024
The DoD has pledged to continue these and other efforts in 2024 to drive real change. And it seems ready to do so, according to the December report:
“To be food secure, Service members and their families must have consistent access to healthy, affordable food. At times, the demands of a military lifestyle may make this challenging; the 2022 Strategy and Roadmap outlined actions aimed at improving Service member access to healthy foods” and there are ongoing efforts to address this issue.
It’s encouraging that the DoD has evolved to the point where the armed services can officially acknowledge these problems rather than issuing ancient cliches like “If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one” and ignoring the problem.
The DoD report notes, “Food insecurity is symptomatic of challenges in many areas, such as financial security and readiness, spousal employment, child care, and convenient access to healthy food options.”
It’s also encouraging to read the next line in that statement from the DoD report. “Because food insecurity does not have just one cause, our efforts must be holistic, multifaceted, and address the variety of family, living, and employment situations that exist across the Force.”
That thinking is a big step forward for some in the ranks. But will the DoD follow through?
Related: Military Money 101
DoD Philosophy on Hunger in the Ranks
We’ve launched some complaints against the DoD in this article, but it’s worth mentioning that the basic philosophy of the federal government HAS evolved on this issue. It’s gone from the previously mentioned “The Army will tell you when to eat” approach to the current, more highly evolved perspective.
That’s an important sign that things may improve. When senior leaders aren’t in denial of the basic problem, that’s when real change can begin. Here’s a line from the 2023 DoD report that indicates that real change may be forthcoming:
“No amount of food insecurity within the Force is acceptable. In recognition of previous economic conditions and possible financial strain for some of our Service members, the Department established a strategy and roadmap to drive a whole-of-DoD effort, encompassing multiple levels of effort.”
And that is exactly what it will take to end food insecurity for those who volunteered to serve.
Related: Military Money 101
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.