KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Having enough food to eat is a struggle for many East Tennessee families.
According to the most recent data from Feeding America, 53,220 people in Knox County were "food insecure" in 2020.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as "the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life."
Last week, the White House held the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health for the first time in more than 50 years.
President Joe Biden said he wants to end hunger in America by 2030.
It's an ambitious goal that some UTK doctoral nutrition students say is critical.
Emilie Holloway and Candace Sapp listened intently as the conference was live streamed at the Change Center in East Knoxville.
"We just know that food insecurity is so prevalent and needs to be addressed; whether it be college students experiencing food insecurity, we have families that can't provide enough food," Holloway said.
As nutrition students and Maternal and Child Health Leadership trainees, Holloway and Sapp say they are watching the conference in hopes of looking for solutions and continuing the conversation locally.
"I think collaboration is going to be the key so that everyone doesn't feel like they have the weight of making a change on their own shoulders," Sapp said. "We can work together and have a greater impact."
Through her work and education, Sapp said she has witnessed inequalities in food security for marginalized communities.
"It's important for me to have a seat at the table, but I also think it's important for people in the community that look like me to see someone like me at the table," she added. "So, making sure that the table was equitable with access, but also with representation."
Several key nutrition-related programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), were launched following the first conference held in 1969 by former President Richard Nixon.
"You can imagine how much has changed in terms of everything related to food and nutrition since then," explained UTK Interim Nutrition Department Head Dr. Brynn Voy. "So, the need for new policy and new ways to think about things has changed."
Although a lot may have changed, a primary goal remains: "Fighting hunger and making sure that there is food justice and food equity in Knoxville and Knox County," said Dr. Marsha Spence, director of UTK's Public Health Nutrition Program.
In the coming weeks, Holloway, Sapp, Dr. Voy and Dr. Spence will reconvene with other community partners to discuss new initiatives to fight hunger in East Tennessee.
National Hunger and Homelessness Week will take place November 12-20 of this year.
In recognition of that, Holloway and Sapp will hold a Vol Day of Service and food drive benefiting the Knoxville community.