Recently a complete stranger asked me a very thought-provoking question. She asked me what kind of work I would do if I had an all-expense paid 1-year sabbatical. I was quite surprised by this question and the possibility of an entire year to do something I was passionate about and that used my developing data skills. It was like a light bulb went off when I thought about the answer to what I would do on a sabbatical – I would combine my helper personality with data storytelling to alleviate hunger. In the past I’ve written about data changing the world. Today I want to focus on the issue of hunger in America and how I think the effective use of data storytelling will help end it.
Hearing or seeing a compelling story creates empathy and drives positive action. There’s been a lot of buzz recently about using data to tell a powerful story. CauseShift’s Senior Advisor Anne Mai Bertelsen in a 2010 Huffington Post article points out that more media coverage of hunger issues and comprehensive data might raise awareness and concern among Americans and prompt them to fight hunger. An editorial by Dan Beyers in the Washington Post states that ‘sometimes the best way to attack a problem is to visualize it.’
According to Feeding America, in 2014 there were over 48 million food insecure people in the United States. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as lacking access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The map on the Feeding America website is a starting point of using data to visualize the scope of the problem. It shows us that different states across the U.S. have pockets where more people need food. It shows us an estimated cost of bringing food security to everyone for one year.
But does this data visualization tell us just how many people are 48 million? Well it’s about 15% of the total U.S. population. But that percentage might still be hard for most of us to visualize. Enter data storytelling and fun with math! The distance from Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida is 5,012 miles. There are 63,360 inches in one mile so Anchorage to Miami is 317,560,320 inches one-way. Let’s assume the average height of Americans to be 67 inches (average female is 65 inches and average male is 70 inches). If every single ‘food insecure’ person laid down side by side on their backs, you could make five round trips between Anchorage and Alaska with all of the ‘food insecure’ Americans.
Hopefully presenting the data in that way made it easier to understand and motivated you to want to act on it. Next week I’ll take a look at how data storytelling can help end hunger in your neighborhood.