New Research Study Analysis: Systemic Change Urgently Needed in the U.S. Emergency Food System

-WhyHunger and Duke University World Food Policy Center Release Full Results and Analysis of the Pandemic Impact on Hunger Relief Organizations Study-
New York (May 11, 2022) —Hunger relief organizations and the U.S. emergency feeding system will continuously face ongoing challenges unless systemic issues in the food system are addressed, according to a new analysis by WhyHunger—a leader in the movement to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food in the U.S. and around the world—and the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center at Duke University. The organizations today released the analysis and full report from their recent survey: ‘Impact of COVID-19 On Hunger Relief Organizations.’ The report describes how Hunger Relief Organizations (HROs) coped with the demand for food during the COVID-19 pandemic, and addresses policy changes and recommendations to uphold long-term solutions for the emergency food system domestically.

The detailed and nuanced survey analysis documents how HROs coped with the COVID-19 pandemic from June through September of 2020 while meeting people’s immediate need for food. The report describes the operational changes HROs were forced or chose to make, what changes they plan to continue, and ideas for strengthening the U.S. food system in the wake of the global pandemic. The survey, whose preliminary results were released last year through an infographic, represents responses from 242 HROs including food banks, advocacy organizations and frontline organizations spanning across U.S.

According to the report, HROs are calling for specific changes including, but not limited to:

  • Increased, sustainable, and more flexible funding.
  • Increased support for programs that intersect with issues of food security such as affordable housing, mental health, childcare and virtual school programs.
  • Nation-wide policy changes to support small-scale agriculture and local food systems as an emerging solution to the precarity of existing food supply chains.
  • Better working conditions and benefits for all workers along the food chain.

HRO identified weaknesses in the emergency food system and overall food system include:

  • More than 75% of HROs see inequitable access to healthy, fresh food as a food system weakness and more than 59% see an overabundance of processed foods as a problem.
  • More than 62% of HROs see the cost of food as a significant problem, as well as the precarity of food supply chains (more than 66%).
  • 72% of HROs identified unpredictable food supply chains and increased reliance on shelf stable items as opposed to fresh foods (46%) as weaknesses in responding to emergencies.
  • 75% of Food Banks, 69% of Advocacy Organizations, and 53% of Frontline Organizations recognize structural racism as a weakness of the food system.
  • Around 65% of HROs cite lack of government support and solutions to address the root causes of hunger as problematic.

“For far too long the U.S. emergency food system has served as a band aid for the chronic and overarching injustice of food insecurity in America. As the pandemic and subsequent supply chain fallout further exposed the numerous fault lines in our current systems, it is apparent that immediate action needs to be taken to ultimately address the systemic challenges in play. The time is now for policy makers and anti-hunger organizations to come together to create transformative change aimed at safeguarding healthy and nutritious food for all – not just in times of emergency but as a basic human right,” said Suzanne Babb, Senior Co-Director of U.S. Programs at WhyHunger.

Recommendations for policy and systematic change noted in the report include but are not limited to:

For HROs

  • Include client enrollment in social safety-net programs as an operational priority.
  • Start, continue or expand programs that address food insecurity at its root causes.
  • Engage clients in defining and implementing advocacy agendas.

For Philanthropy

  • Fund projects that address problems and challenges holistically at their social, political and economic intersections.
  • Reevaluate measures of success for food insecurity work to focus on progress towards community economic stability and resilience – not pounds of food distributed and meals served.
  • Continue to build and reinforce relationships with HROs, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of color (BIPOC)-led and BIPOC-accountable organizations.


  • Continue to deepen the SNAP social safety net and make P-EBT permanent.
  • Make SNAP waivers permanent to lift more families out of poverty.
  • Take steps to identify and understand the different characteristics and needs of communities in crisis vs. communities facing chronic, systemic problems–and adjust social safe net responses accordingly.
  • Deepen the transparency of the USDA’s emergency plan and communications protocols so that supporting actors in emergency response can operate with less
  • Operationalize client choice of food, especially culturally appropriate food, as a core value in emergency food provision.
  • Address the overabundance of processed foods in the food system through food policy changes that prioritize societal health over industry profit and hold industry responsible for the adverse societal impact of unhealthy foods.
  • Adopt a set of values, policies and priorities that amplify investment in local and regional food and farm economies and in the health of our natural resources while recognizing that those preparing the soil, harvesting fruits, and stocking the grocery store shelves are “life-sustaining workers” that deserve good pay and just working conditions.
  • Support community scale agroecological production and distribution while centering BIPOC as those most impacted across all sectors of the food system.

“The unprecedented crisis served as an opportunity to reflect on the weaknesses of our current food system and to build a more resilient one. According to the survey, Hunger Relief Organizations plan to spend more time on advocacy and racial equity efforts after the pandemic. Many of them report that improving the social safety net, strengthening local food systems, and addressing the root causes of hunger would pave a path to a more resilient food system,” said researcher Gizem Templeton of the Duke World Food Policy Center.

To download the study’s in-depth analysis and findings please visit:


This research survey was conducted among a national sample of 242 anti-hunger organizations, including food banks, advocacy organizations and frontline organizations spanning across U.S. Participating organizations represented varying geographies, ages, and budgets, with the majority operating for over 10 years and at the local or regional levels. The preliminary study was conducted between the months of August-November in 2020.

About WhyHunger 

Founded in 1975 by the late Harry Chapin and radio DJ Bill Ayres, WhyHunger believes a world without hunger is possible. We provide critical resources to support grassroots movements and fuel community solutions rooted in social, environmental, racial and economic justice. A four-star rated charity by Charity Navigator, with highest ratings for excellence in fiscal management accountability and transparency, WhyHunger is working to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food in the U.S. and around the world. 90 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to programmatic work. Learn more at and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Duke World Food Policy Center

The World Food Policy Center is a research, education, and convening organization within Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Its mission is to advance connected and inclusive food system policy and practice in support of equity and resilience of local and global food systems. WFPC work centers on economic development through food justice; root causes and narratives of racial inequity in the food system; the role of institutions in supporting community-led food justice; decision-making, power and benefit in food system governance; local food system analysis; and public health and nutrition.