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Unprecedented Study Paints Detailed Portrait of Food Insecurity in Maine

Unprecedented Study Paints Detailed Portrait of Food Insecurity in Maine

Good Shepherd Food-Bank and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, today released a landmark study entitled “Map the Meal Gap,” providing the first detailed look at the additional food dollars needed by Maine families struggling with hunger each year – an estimated 91.3 million dollars in total.

This gap in the food budget equates to more than 33.2 million missing meals in Maine in 2009. Government programs and nonprofit hunger-relief organizations work to fill the meal gap, but it is clear that, as the rate of food insecurity continues to rise, additional resources are needed.

“In Maine, 43 percent of the food insecure population does not qualify for food stamps or other government programs, so they often rely on Good Shepherd Food-Bank and other charities to help feed themselves and their families,” said Rick Small, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Food-Bank. “This data helps us understand that need in a new way.”

The data has the potential to redefine the way service providers and policy makers address areas of need, as it provides critical information that has never been previously available — food insecurity rates for each county and Congressional District. Previously, food insecurity data was only available at the state level in the USDA’s annual report. The study further analyzes each county’s food insecure population to determine income eligibility for federal nutrition assistance.

The study also takes a look at ‘meals’ in a whole new way, using county-level data on food costs from The Nielsen Company to break down the food budget shortfall of our residents into an approximation of the meals missing from the tables of people at risk of hunger in Maine each year.

In a departure from the standard of measuring meals in pounds, “Map the Meal Gap” estimates the relative cost of a meal, adjusting the national average of $2.54 per meal according to food prices in each county. The study shows that, in Maine, the average meal price is $2.75, significantly higher than the national average. “Map the Meal Gap” also allows food costs to be compared across counties, showing that Piscataquis and Lincoln counties have the highest food costs in Maine.

“We know hunger exists in every state across the nation, but it looks different from county to county, and therefore, so do the solutions,” said Small. “The results of this study show that the best way for us to help people facing hunger is to understand who is hungry and why they are hungry at the community level.”

Map the Meal Gap provides the following data for Maine
and each of its counties in an interactive map format:

  • The percentage of the population who is food insecure.
  • The percentage of the food insecure population who qualify based on income for SNAP (Foods Stamps) and other federal nutrition programs.
  • The percentage of the food insecure population who do NOT qualify for federal nutrition programs and often must rely on charitable food assistance programs and who also need better wages and employment opportunities to help them meet their basic needs.
  • The average price per meal, based on new research by The Nielsen Company.

The findings of “Map the Meal Gap” are based on statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, and food price data from The Nielsen Company. The study was supported by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and Nielsen.

“Map the Meal Gap” was conducted using well-established, transparent methods. Data were analyzed by Feeding America in partnership with Dr. Craig Gundersen, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group.

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available on Feeding America’s web site at

Tweet about Map the Meal Gap using #MealGap.

Join the national conversation on hunger and learn more about Feeding America:

About Good Shepherd Food-Bank

The largest hunger relief organization in Maine, Good Shepherd Food-Bank provides for those at risk of hunger by soliciting and distributing surplus food to more than 600 partner agencies.  Since 1981, the Food-Bank has partnered with individuals, businesses and farmers to alleviate hunger and build community relationships.  During fiscal year 2009-2010, the Food-Bank distributed 12 million pounds of food to families and individuals throughout Maine.  Web site:  Phone:  (207) 782-3554.  Twitter:

About Feeding America

Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to 37 million Americans each year, including nearly 14 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks support 61,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms. For more information on how you can fight hunger in your community and across the country, visit Find us on Facebook at or follow our news on Twitter at