Politics of Poverty

Is the US a good place to eat?

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New Oxfam report reveals where people are getting enough of the right food.

It’s one of my favorite times of year in Washington, DC. It’s not the cherry blossoms. It’s Restaurant Week. My college roommate visits from Nebraska (her physical therapists’ conference nicely coincides each year) and we catch up about what we have in common—families, farms, and friends—over multiple prix fixe menus around town.

One would think that enjoying all of this amazing food in our nation’s capital would mean that the US, as a nation, is a good place to eat. But not so.

This week Oxfam released a report that gives this idea a new meaning. Oxfam created the Good Enough to Eat Index to give a global snapshot of 125 countries, indicating the best and worst places to eat.

The perspective shifts when a “good place to eat” no longer means cloth napkins, foodie trends, and celebrity chefs. Oxfam examined whether there was enough to eat, if people could afford to eat, the quality of food, and unhealthy eating.


Chad ranked last, behind Ethiopia and Angola, with the Netherlands beating France and Switzerland for the head of the table. In spite of having the most affordable food on the planet and a high rank on food quality, the United States tied for 21st in the rankings with Japan. Extreme levels of obesity and diabetes leave the U.S. 120th out of 125 countries when it comes to healthy eating.

This interactive graph below enables you to explore countries and ranks.

The index demonstrates that there remains a significant proportion of people in many different countries that face challenges in getting the daily food intake that everyone needs, while obesity is becoming more pronounced due to better incomes and changing diets. It’s important to note that it is both problems often weigh heaviest on the poorest citizens.

With the report, Oxfam is calling for global action needed to fix broken food systems, pressuring governments and the food industry so that people are better able meet their nutritional needs. This includes:

  • Investing in small-holder agriculture and infrastructure in developing countries to raise production levels and diversity of crops, and giving farmers access to markets and the means to store food to prevent waste;
  • Reducing global carbon emissions to prevent ever-worse climate change impacts on food production, investing in resilient agriculture production that can adapt to a changing climate, and assisting farmers to adopt better practices and technologies in response to climate change;
  • Scrapping biofuels targets which divert food from mouths to fuel tanks;
  • Improving land rights so that vulnerable communities are at less risk of land grabs;
  • Taking action to curb the rise in overweight and obesity levels, which represents a critical health issue in developing and developed economies; and
  • Better regulating food speculation to help prevent high and volatile food prices.

My friend arrives tonight. Because both of us grew up in rural Nebraska, we intimately know the food system that’s led to the US’ ranking. That means we also know why we’re not in the best place to eat, even as we experience DC’s great restaurants.

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