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How the Upcoming Heat Wave will Impact Food Insecurity

Temperatures in excess of 100 degrees are expected to reach Middle and West Tennessee in the upcoming days, which will have detrimental effects on our neighbors in need. Extreme heat will drastically reduce access to food both in the next few weeks and for years to come. It is important to discuss and remember the impacts that the forecasted extreme heat will have on food insecurity.  

In the short term, extreme heat has multiple impacts on those facing food insecurity with particularly acute effects among rural and low-income households. Heat indexes are expected to reach an excess of 115 degrees in Middle Tennessee, and little relief is expected after the sunsets with nighttime temperatures likely barely dropping out of the triple digits. This will put an undue burden on our neighbors with tight budgets, who cannot afford the increased utility bills for running their air conditioners through unprecedented temperatures. Our neighbors will be forced to make ends meet somehow, meaning they may either forgo food to afford their increased bills, or brave the potentially deadly heat spike with no A/C. Moreover, rolling blackouts could happen to relieve overheated power grids, which would leave Middle and West Tennesseans without power for hours at a time. This will not only put them in danger but, also, could spoil the food kept in their refrigerator. The CDC recommends treating any food that has been left in a refrigerator for more than 4 hours without power as unsafe to eat. Households may have to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of food that they have not budgeted for replacing, on top of increased utility bills.   

In the long term, extreme heat will disrupt our food supply. When temperatures rise, crops suffer. The USDA states, “Extreme heat exposure can stress plants, stunt development, and cause plant mortality, which often results in reduced quality and lower yield in agricultural crops.” Couple this with the fact that two of Tennessee’s major crops, corn, and soybeans, are the most susceptible to extreme heat, and there is a potential for catastrophic impacts. A recent report from the European Journal of Public Health reports farmers and local officials estimate that the soaring temperatures can reduce agriculture yields by 10–50%. This will have two major outcomes. First, food supplies will be disrupted. The Tennessee government estimates 21% of the state’s population lives in food deserts, and predicted reductions will only expand that population. Second, prices will rise. According to Feeding America, a person facing food insecurity in Middle and West Tennessee needs $3.68 per meal, which is a 10% increase since 2020. These statistics have yet to include reduced crop yields from droughts and extreme weather. The European Journal of Public Health argues that we could see prices increase upwards of 40% as a result of heat waves.   

Food deserts will grow, households that are food insecure can expect their situation to worsen, and our neighbors in need will need your help more than ever due to extreme heat. Give today to ensure fellow Tennesseans are well-fed and safe this summer. 

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