October 6, 2005 | By: Terri McLean

Unlike the haunting images of malnourished children in faraway countries, the face of hunger in Kentucky is largely invisible. 

“People mistakenly think that those who are hungry are visibly thin or malnourished like the people we see in some Third World countries in the news,” said Janet Tietyen, food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. “But we know based on research that that’s not really the case.”

Tietyen would like to help change that misconception and, in the process, create awareness about the growing problem of hunger in Kentucky. Together with God’s Pantry Food Bank in Lexington, she and students in her graduate level community program development class have organized three events in conjunction with World Food Day Oct. 14.

“I really think it’s timely that we do something now, on World Food Day, to help us help our neighbors,” said Tietyen, who is also a registered dietitian. “I think it’s particularly timely in the face of what’s been exposed about poverty in the United States today.”

With a Halloween theme of “Treat Your Neighbor Right,” an on-campus food drive will be held Oct. 10-14. Ten collection sites – complete with “Big Blue” barrels – will be available across campus for nonperishable items.

“We will be collecting food donations for God’s Pantry Food Bank to distribute to needy families in Kentucky,” Tietyen said. “God’s Pantry and the entire network of food systems is really in need of help right now because of the stress of dealing with natural disasters.”

Then, on Oct. 11, UK’s Lemon Tree Café will serve meager first plates – a lettuce leaf and nuts, perhaps – to illustrate how few calories some people consume each day.

On Oct. 14, the class will sponsor an interactive teleconference with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which sponsors World Food Day. The keynote speaker will be Frances Moore Lappe, food activist and author of “Diet for a Small Planet.” The teleconference, in Room 128 Erikson Hall, will be followed by discussion and call-in questions to Lappe.

“People can just stop by and take part at any time,” Tietyen said.

Although Tietyen believes the World Food Day events her students have planned will be successful, she said much work needs to be done to educate the public about hunger.

“What many people don’t realize is that high-calorie food with little nutritional value is very affordable, and the things that are not affordable are more nutritional foods,” she said. “People who go through times of hunger and what we call food insecurity are more likely to overeat when food is available. And who wouldn’t? So the face of hunger and poverty may in today’s world be someone who struggles with the quality of their diet.”

Statistics appear to support Tietyen’s assertion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in the years 2001, 2002 and 2003, an average of 11.2 percent of Kentucky households was “food insecure” at some point, while the national average was 11 percent. Being “food insecure” means access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods is limited or uncertain. It also means there is limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

“Families have to make decisions about what they’re going to pay for. And particularly this winter they’re going to have to be making some decisions about whether to heat their homes or buy food,” Tietyen added.

The World Food Day events are examples of Cooperative Extension’s and the College of Agriculture’s overall educational efforts aimed at combating Kentucky’s hunger problems. Through programs such as the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Tietyen said, “we try to educate families about how to, with their limited resources, get the most nutritious foods they can.” 

Plus, they also work closely with organizations such as God’s Pantry Food Bank, which provides emergency food assistance in 49 central and eastern Kentucky counties.

“Most of the counties in Kentucky have some kind of food assistance system,” Tietyen said. “Some of them might be through churches. Some of them might be through community centers.”

For people outside the Lexington area who have questions about how to donate food for World Food Day – or any time - she advised them to contact their county Extension office. 

“Either the agriculture and natural resources agent or the family and consumer sciences agent should be able to tell them about how to donate food in their local area,” she said.


Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Janet Tietyen, 859-257-1812