18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity continues to impact households across our region as families prepare for Thanksgiving.

Recent survey data from the University of Vermont found that roughly one in four Vermont families are struggling to put food on the table, and the state hasn’t seen a return to pre-pandemic levels at any point since March 2020.

“A lot of people are asking ‘why is this still happening?” said Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in the UVM Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences. “We have a lot of people back to work now, we’re not facing shortages of food in the grocery store.”

Since last spring, Niles has been overseeing a series of surveys about food insecurity with the National Food Access and COVID Research Team. The results have identified a handful of factors in Vermont and the nation’s continued battle with hunger, including rising costs at grocery stores.

“The cost of food has actually gone up pretty significantly over the past year and a half,” Niles said. “Animal products like eggs and meat have gone up 20 percent from this time last year.”

Meanwhile, it’s likely those who experienced job disruptions last year are still struggling to reach financial stability, and the cost of buying a balanced diet may be out of reach for those living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Niles said there’s more we can learn from past instances of widespread food insecurity, and one of the more recent examples could be a cause for concern.

“Our last recession that we had in 2008 – it took ten years for the food security levels to get back to where they were before that recession,” Niles said. “A lot of people are still trying to make that up.”

In Franklin County, New York, more than one in five children can’t depend on three balanced meals a day. According to Feeding America, that’s nearly of 50 percent higher than the national average.

This Thanksgiving, people are stepping up to assist those dealing with food insecurity.

This week, students in the culinary arts program at North Franklin Educational Center got cooking – providing 10 full Thanksgiving meals to families in need as part of a new ‘Torchgiving’ program.

“We have been looking for a way to make a difference in our communities, and this seemed like both a great educational experience for our Culinary Arts class and an awesome opportunity to give back,” said Principal Shawn McMahon said. “We all hope that this work will make a big difference for some local families and help them have a happy holiday.” 

UVM research has also sown that many families have increased the amount of food they grow, fish, raise, or hunt during the pandemic – nearly 60% of households engaged in some form of home food production.