Hidden Hunger in The Rural South

Solutions That Feed Body and Community are Necessary

Tina Escalona

The Problem

Food insecurity in America is a serious but primarily obscure issue that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified. In America, families dependent upon low paying agricultural jobs have experienced reduced and unstable income. Support for marginal populations without regular employment, Internet access or reliable transportation is sporadic. Due to geography and unique cultural influences, this humanitarian crisis will worsen without strategic solutions and cross-cultural participation.

Rural Southern America is experiencing both population and cultural shifts creating tension in a population that values tradition. In S.C. the population is 64% white, 27% black and 6% Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Regionally, however, the area is expected to experience increased migration.

The majority population group in S.C. generally maintains cultural separation when engaging ethnically diverse groups, whether those who are relocating from the Northern U.S. for professional opportunities or those migrating from Mexico and points South. They might extend cordial greetings or invite those in similar socio-economic situations to their places of worship but largely, their middle circles of friendly acquaintances and inner circles of family and close friends include only those who are most similar, meaning those with who look like them, speak the way they speak and who share their heritage.

The challenge of increased poverty and hunger among minority and marginalized populations in the South is uniquely difficult because the issue is largely “hidden” due to geographical and social distance. When we attempt to construct effective strategic solutions, we find the distance, both physical and social, creates hurdles. How do we design solutions for such a complex problem when we are forced to consider the vast Power Distance Index (PDI), the chasm between the privileged and disadvantaged along with the most basic geographic and language hurdles? It’s tough.

The Plan

To begin to solve this issue, we must first create awarenessand understanding about the minority groups in ways that evoke empathy in the majority population. Those in highly individualistic regions, like the Southern U.S., require more social pressure to create empathy. If we hope to solve the big problems facing desperately poor populations in America, we need to ensure target audiences have a foundation of familiarity with the poverty in their midst. Statewide initiatives should: focus on raising awareness about food insecurity, provide meaningful opportunities for cross-cultural interactions and facilitate employment and economic partnerships that help to solve problems for the marginalized and business communities.

Feeding Americapublished a study in 2018 identifying the Southern region of the U.S. as the region with the highest rate (16.7%) of food insecurity in the nation. This number is likely higher today due to effects of the pandemic. Food insecurity is defined by the organization as, “a federal measure of a household’s ability to provide enough food for every person in the household to have an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one way we can measure the risk of hunger.”

A briefing from Feeding America projects sharp increases in demand for support of the most vulnerable populations, specifically the poor in rural communities. (U.S. Rural Poor)

We can use these facts in targeted campaigns to explain who is suffering and why. South Carolinians are demographically religious, enjoy sports and value a good work ethic. By using creative and compelling storytelling narratives, we can create awareness and empathy.

However, awareness is not the end goal. . The value of raising awareness is that, when done correctly, informed individuals can be led to take action. For meaningful outcomes, we must build a culture of acceptance and move the minority groups through to healthy integration. Awareness must lead to opportunities for more intercultural exposure.

A program that began in the Bordeaux wine region of France is an intriguing and inspiring model to explore. (Rugby Refugees and French Wine Makers)

Developing programs similar to this that meet agricultural labor demands while providing employment, support services and mentoring for migrant groups should be a priority for Southern states like South Carolina. The beauty of this model is that social, cultural and basic human needs are being addressed thoughtfully and simultaneously. A model for S.C. might bring together a diverse group of college and professional athletes to lead an outreach sports program for the migrant community. This program would be used in a campaign to recruit S.C. residents to host fishing and hunting outings for the migrant communities. South Carolinians could share their passion for traditional Southern culture in ways that expand cross-cultural opportunities and create solutions that feed bodies and communities.


Martin, Judith N. and Nakayama, Thomas K (2018) Intercultural Communications in Contexts, (7thed). McGraw Hill Education.

Bier, J. (March 17, 2021). Immediate Solutions for Migrant Children. Cato.org https://www.cato.org/publications/immediate-solutions-migrant-children

Hofstede Hofstede-Insights.com


FeedingAmerica.org. (2018). Rural Hunger Facts.


SCJustice.org. (April 2012). The Working Poor in South Carolina.


United States Census Bureau. (2019). S.C. Population Estimates. https://www.census.gov/

Thompson-Gorry, K. (March 25, 2021). The UN Refugee Agency. Refugees help French Winemakers fill labour shortages. https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/stories/2021/3/605b4e9a4/refugees-help-french-wine-makers-fill-labour-shortages.html?query=rugby%20bordeaux

Hofstede, G. Clearlycultural.com. (n.d.) Power Distance Index.


Experienced corporate brand builder, communicator and visual storyteller. Fierce advocate for animals, adventurer and aspiring documentary maker. UFGator❤

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