There is a general idea about hunger, which is most of the times associated with the least developed countries in the world.
Few people, however, actually see hunger as being a problem in the US. Still, despite the general evolution of the society as a whole, there are a growing number of poor people. Thus, it is important to consider the degree in which hunger represents a major issue for the America’s poor population. This paper argues that, indeed, hunger plays an essential role in the lives of those with limited financial means.The purpose of this paper is to increase awareness on the issue of hunger and what it represents for a large segment of the American society. Moreover, it aims to underline the causes and effects of this phenomenon at the social level. Finally, it seeks to consider different measures that could be taken by all the parties involved in order to improve the condition of the poor and hunger in America.
Keywords: Hunger and Food Insecurity. Recent headlines indicate that America has a problem with food. Simply put, Americans eat too much. Obesity is on pace to become the leading preventable cause of death in this country (Reilly, 2002).While this is cause for concern, the reality of a serious health risk linked to an abundant food supply overshadows another problem that America has with food. Hunger affected an estimated 17. 1 million American households in 2008 (USDA, 2008).
In the annual USDA survey on food insecurity, the number of Americans found to be food insecure in 2008 rose sharply to 49 million individuals, a 36% increase over the prior year (USDA, 2008). In a country with enough food and money to feed the world twice over, 1-in-8 people struggle to put food on his or her table (Sniffen, 2008). These are startling numbers in a land of plenty.As millions struggle to lose weight, many other millions struggle to find enough to eat. Hunger and its precursor, food insecurity, have a major impact on the lives of many Americans throughout the country. Food insecurity exists “whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain” (Anderson, 1990, p. 1560).
Hunger, a narrower and more severe form of deprivation, is defined as “the painful or uneasy sensation caused by a lack of food” (Anderson, 1990, p. 1560). Hunger and food insecurity is on the increase in the U.S. as families face ultimatums to pay for food or rent, food or medicine. Hunger and food insecurity are two related concepts with many of the same causes, affecting many of the same populations. Hunger and food insecurity exist on a continuum, with hunger being the end result.
Food insecurity describes a situation where there is uncertainty in a household’s food supply. This is often due to low income and has an effect on purchasing decisions. Although there might not be any reduction in the amount of food consumed, the stress of not knowing that their food supply is secure can influence decisions. Households typically adopt a series of coping strategies in response to food insecurity” (Hall, 2004). Food quality may be reduced, as may be food variety in response to food insecurity. Food insecurity is the first step toward actual food deprivation. Hunger refers to a state where food intake is actually reduced.
The individual doesn’t receive the required amount of calories required for normal functioning. Hunger occurs after food insecurity has already afflicted a household. The difference between hunger and food insecurity is related to where they fall on a continuum of food scarcity in a household.If food intake has not actually been reduced, but the possibility exists that it may be, then the situation is food insecurity. When the instability of food supply has reached the point that food intake is reduced, hunger results. Hunger represents a major issue for America’s poor population. It is an obvious consequence of the lack of sufficient financial resources that would enable them to benefit from a balanced adequate diet.
When people look at the facts for themselves, they discover the shocking reality: hunger amidst a sea of plenty is a phenomenon as American as baseball, jazz and apple pie.Today in the United States, because tens of millions of people live below the meager federal poverty line and because tens of millions of others hover just above it, 35. 5 million Americans, including 12. 6 million children, live in a condition described by the government as “food insecurity” (Feeding America, 2010). Which means their households either suffer from hunger or struggle at the brink of hunger. Primarily because federal anti-hunger safety net programs have worked, American children are no longer dying in significant numbers as an immediate result of famine like onditions, although children did die of malnutrition here as recently as the late 1960s (Hunger and Poverty in the United States, 2007). Still, despite living in a nation with so many luxury homes that the term “McMansion” has come into popular usage, millions of American adults and children have such little ability to afford food that they do go hungry at different points throughout the year, and are otherwise forced to spend money on food that should have been spend on other necessities like heat, health care or proper child care.
Most alarmingly, the problem has only gotten worse in recent years.The 35. 5 million food-insecure Americans encompass a number roughly equal to the population of California (Egendorf, 2006). That figure represents a more than 4 million-person increase since 1999. The number of children who live in such households also increased during that time, rising by more than half a million children (Feeding America, 2010). The number of adults and children who suffered from the most severe lack of food, what the Bush administration now calls “very low food security” and what used to be called “hunger,” also increased in that period from 7. 7 million to 11.
million people, a 44 percent increase in just seven years (Egendorf, 2007). While once confined to our poor inner cities (such as Watts, Harlem, Southeast D. C. , the Chicago South Side, and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans) and isolated rural areas (such as Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Indian reservations and the Texas/Mexico border region), hunger, and the poverty that causes it, has now spread so broadly that it is a significant and increasing problem in suburbs throughout the nation. Meanwhile, just as more people need more food from pantries and soup kitchens, these charities have less to give.Since the government and private funding that they receive is usually fixed, when food prices increase, charities are forced to buy less (Feeding America, 2010). When those fixed amounts from government actually decrease (as they have in recent years), the situation goes from bad to worse.
In May 2008, America’s Second Harvest Food Bank Network, the nation’s dominant food bank network (which, in late 2008, changed its name to Feeding America), reported that 100 percent of their member agencies served more clients than in the previous year, with the overall increases estimated to be 15 to 20 percent.Fully 84 percent of food banks were unable to meet the growing demand due to a combination of three factors: increasing number of clients; decreasing government aid; and soaring food prices. The number of “emergency feeding programs” in America, consisting mostly of food pantries (which generally provide free bags of canned and boxed groceries for people to take home) and soup kitchens (which usually provide hot, prepared food for people to eat on site), has soared past 40,000. As of 2005, a minimum of 24 million Americans depended on food from such agencies (America’s Second Harvest, 2008) .Yet, given that more than 35 million Americans were food insecure, this statistic meant that about 11 million, roughly a third of those without enough food, didn’t receive any help from charities. We live in a new gilded age. Inequality of wealth is spiraling to record heights, and the wealthiest are routinely paying as much as $1,500 for a case of champagne, equal to five weeks of full-time work for someone earning the minimum wage.
While welfare reform is still moving some families to economic self-sufficiency, families being kicked off the rolls are increasingly ending up on the street.Homelessness is spiking. Poverty is skyrocketing. And the middle class is disappearing. Meanwhile, soaring food prices have made it even more difficult for families to manage. Food costs rose 4 percent in 2007, compared with an average 2. 5 percent annual rise for the 1990-2006 period, according to the U.
S. Department of Agriculture (2008). For key staples, the hikes were even worse: milk prices rose 7 percent in 2007, and egg prices rose by a whopping 29 percent. It was even tougher for folks who wanted to eat nutritiously.A study in the Seattle area found that the most nutritious types of foods (fresh vegetables, whole grains, fish and lean meats) experienced a 20 percent price hike, compared to 5 percent for food in general. The USDA predicted that 2008 would be worse still, with an overall food price rise that could reach 5 percent, and with prices for cereal and bakery products projected to increase as much as 8. 5 percent (Simon, 2008).
As author Loretta Schwartz-Nobel has chronicled in her 2002 book, Growing Up Empty: The Hunger Epidemic in America, the nation’s hunger problem manifests itself in some truly startling ways.Even our armed forces often don’t pay enough to support the food needs of military families. Schwartz-Nobel describes a charitable food distribution agency aimed solely at the people who live on a Marine base in Virginia and includes this quote from a Marine: “The way the Marine Corps made it sound, they were going to help take care of us, they made me think we’d have everything we needed. … They never said you’ll get no food allowance for your family. They never said you’ll need food stamps … and you still won’t have enough. Schwatz-Nobel also quoted a Cambodian refugee in the Midwest: “My children are hungry. Often we are as hungry in America as I was in the (refugee) camps.
” America’s Dirty Secret Comes Out of Hiding From 1970 to 2005, the mass media ignored hunger (Gibbs, 2006). But due to the surge of intense (albeit brief) media coverage of poverty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and subsequent reporting of food bank shortages and the impact of increasing food prices on the poor, the American public has been slowly waking to the fact that hunger and poverty are serious, growing problems domestically.Plus, more and more Americans suffer from hunger, have friends or relatives struggling with the problem, or volunteer at feeding charities where they see the problem for themselves. Harmful myths about poverty are also starting to be discredited. While Americans have often envisioned people in poverty as lazy, healthy adults who just don’t want to work, 72 percent of the nation’s able-bodied adults living in poverty reported to the Census Bureau in 2006 that they had at least one job, and 88 percent of the households on food stamps contained either a child, an elderly person or a disabled person.It is harder and harder to make the case that the trouble is laziness and irresponsibility (Hunger and Poverty in the United States, 2007). The real trouble is the inability of many working people to support their families on meager salaries and the inability of others to find steady, full-time work.
Fundamentally a Political Problem As far as domestic issues go, hunger is a no-brainer. Every human being needs to eat. Hunger is an issue that is universally understandable. And everyone is against hunger in America.Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in America who says they’re for hunger. Unlike other major issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, over which the country is bitterly divided based on deeply held values, Americans of all ideologies and religions are remarkably united in their core belief that, in a nation as prosperous as America, it is unacceptable to have people going hungry. Even ultraconservative President Ronald Reagan, after being embarrassed when his op aide Edwin Meese suggested that there was not really hunger in America and that people were going to soup kitchens just so they could get a “free lunch,” was quickly forced to issue a memo stating his abhorrence of domestic hunger and his intention to end it (Lieberman, 2003).
Since then, Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and high-profile members of the Senate and the House, have all given speeches laced with ringing criticism of domestic hunger.Even right-wing think tanks, which often minimize the extent of hunger or say that hunger is the fault of hungry people, claim they want to end any hunger that may exist (Hunger and Poverty in the United States, 2007). If the American political system was put on trial for its failures, hunger would be “Exhibit A. ” Domestic hunger is not a unique problem; it is actually symbolic of our society’s broader problems.
The most characteristic features of modern American politics, entrenched ideological divisions, the deceptive use of statistics, the dominance of big money, the passivity and vacuity of the media, the undue influence of interest groups and empty partisan posturing, all work in tandem to prevent us from ending domestic hunger” (Hunger and Poverty in the United States, 2007). If we can’t solve a problem as basic as domestic hunger, over which there is so much theoretical consensus, no wonder we can’t solve any of our more complicated issues such as immigration and the lack of affordable health care.In 1969, reaching a similar conclusion, Sen. George McGovern, D-S. D. , chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, put it this way: “Hunger is unique as a public issue because it exerts a special claim on the conscience of the American people. … Somehow, we Americans are able to look past slum housing … and the chronic unemployment of our poor.
But the knowledge that human beings, especially little children, are suffering from hunger profoundly disturbs the American conscience. To admit the existence of hunger in America is to confess that we have failed in meeting the most sensitive and painful of human needs. To admit the existence of widespread hunger is to cast doubt on the efficacy of our whole system. If we can’t solve the problem of hunger in our society, one wonders if we can resolve any of the great social issues before the nation” (Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, 2006). It is not surprising that liberal McGovern would make such a statement, but it is a bit shocking that Republican Nixon,McGovern’s opponent in the 1972 presidential election, made similar statements during his presidency, after having denied that hunger was a serious problem (Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, 2006). The reason Nixon finally acknowledge domestic hunger, and ultimately took serious action to rescue it, was that he was forced to do so by a combination of grassroots citizen agitation and concentrated national media attention on the issue.In more recent decades, we’ve gone backward, and our modern elected officials deserve most of the blame.
While, in the 1970s, the newly instituted federal nutrition safety net that Nixon and McGovern helped create ended starvation conditions and almost eliminated food insecurity altogether, in the early 1980s, Reagan and a compliant Democratic Congress slashed federal nutrition assistance and other antipoverty programs (Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, 2006).Reagan also began the multi-decade process of selling the nation on the false notion that the voluntary and uncoordinated private charity could somehow make up for a large-scale downsizing in previously mandatory government assistance (Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, 2006). Predictably, hunger again rose. Both Bush administrations and the Newt Gingrich Congress enacted policies that worsened America’s hunger problem (Nightingale, 2003).But when a somewhat more aggressive Democratic congress took over in 2007, Congress slightly raised the minimum wage and added a bit more money for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as the WIC food program, and, in 2008, they somewhat increased food stamp benefits (Quan, 2008). Certainly, small advances under Democratic leadership were much better than the consistent setbacks under the Republicans.But even liberal Democratic leaders have proved unlikely to propose bolder efforts because they worry that such a focus might turn off middle-class “swing voters,” and because big-money donors, who now control the Democratic Party nearly as much as they control the Republican Party, have different priorities (Hunger and Poverty in the United States, 2007).
Even when elected officials of both parties do want to substantively address hunger and poverty, they usually get bogged down in all-but-meaningless ideological debates, rhetorical excesses and score-settling partisan antics.Certainly, it’s not just elected officials who are to blame. Many religious denominations that denounce hunger also teach their congregations (consciously or unconsciously) that hunger is an inevitable part of both human history and God’s will (Gibbs, 2006). While it should be ameliorated with charitable acts, they sadly teach, it can’t really be eliminated. Businesses that donate food to charities often oppose increases in the minimum wage and other government policies that would decrease people’s need for such donated food (Hunger and Poverty in the United States, 2006).The news media, funded by ads from businesses and politicians, rarely point out these discrepancies and focus instead on cheerleading for superficial, holiday-time charitable efforts. But most harmfully, Americans all over the country have been tricked into thinking that these problems can’t be solved and that the best we can hope for is for private charities to make the suffering marginally less severe (Egendorf, 2006).
America can end hunger.By implementing a bold new political and policy agenda to empower low-income Americans and achieve fundamental change based upon mainstream values, America can end hunger quickly and cost-effectively (Gibbs, 2006). That achievement would concretely improve tens of millions of lives, and, in the process, provide a blueprint for fixing the broader problems of our entire, bilge-ridden political system. Outside the Taylor Grocery and Restaurant (which serves the world’s best grilled catfish) in Taylor, Miss. , is a sign that says, “Eat or We Both Starve. Not only is that slogan a good way to sell catfish, it is a great way to sum up why our collective self-interest should compel us to end domestic hunger (Lieberman, 2003). No society in the history of the world has sustained itself in the long run with as much inequality of wealth as exists in America.
Growing hunger and poverty, if left unchecked, will eventually threaten the long-term food security, finances and social stability of all Americans, even the ones who are currently middle class or wealthy.
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