“‘I don’t like letting nobody…know I’m hungry,’” Lewis Roman. 13, says. He lives in Philadelphia, and “sleeps in one room with his mother, brothers, and sister while he goes to school and tries to have a normal teenage life,” according to a CBS News report.
“Lewis told me about trying to fall asleep (and sometimes not being able to) as a way to deal with hunger. He told me how he’ll get so hungry that he’ll feel like throwing up.”
(Seth Doane, “The Personal Side of Hunger in America,” www.cbsnews.com, 6/5/09)
“49 Million Americans Report a Lack of Food” was a recent New York Times headline, here in the richest country on earth. “The number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food soared last year to 49 million, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls ‘food insecurity’ 14 years ago, the Department of Agriculture reported.”
Many people lack food because they lack money, because they have no job. Though major banks and Wall Street have begun to recover from the deep recession, Main Street has not, and unemployment remains very high.
“Food insecurity” is a euphemism that in plain English means having to go without food. New York Times reporter Jason DeParle wrote about one family whose members had to “skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point during the year” because they were simply broke. (11/16/09)
In its recent report, the Department of Agriculture said that in 506,000 households children faced “very low food security,” up almost 200,000 over the previous year. President Obama called this finding “particularly troubling.” Nearly 17 million children lived in homes where food was scarce at times, and more than one million of them were sometimes just plain hungry. This is a 45% increase from 12 million in 2007.
An analyst at the conservative American Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector, said of the 49 million reporting a lack of food: “Very few of these people are hungry. When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind of food they buy. That is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”
But James Weill, director of the Food Resource and Action Center, said, “Many people are outright hungry, skipping meals. Others say they have enough to eat but only because they’re going to food pantries or using food stamps. We describe it as ‘households struggling with hunger.’” (New York Times, 11/17/09) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “These numbers are a wake-up call for the country.”
A food bank in San Antonio, Texas, found that more than 40% of their clients “report having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food; 29% had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food; 35% report having to choose between paying for medical bills or food.” (www.safoodbank.org)
Lynn Brantley, president and CEO of a food bank in Washington DC, described what she sees every day: “It’s a woman with children trying to make ends meet. It’s a senior citizen who is living on a very minimum income. It’s people who are losing their homes or losing their jobs. And it’s being compounded now with the economy over and over again. High fuel prices, high food costs…inflation has been hitting. And that’s where people are in need most, where it gets hit the hardest.”(www.pbs.org/newshour, 11/17/09)
Economist Raj Patel, activist and author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System, said he found the U.S. hunger numbers appalling: “The reason that we have this huge increase in hunger in the United States, as around the world, isn’t because there isn’t enough food around. Actually, we produced a pretty reliable solid crop last year. … The reason people go hungry is because of poverty.” (www.democracynow.org, 11/18/09)
- 1. What questions do you have about the reading? How might they be answered?
- 2. What kinds of choices are hungry people having to make?
- 3. Why does Robert Rector of the American Heritage Foundation think that “very few” Americans are hungry?
- 4. What evidence does the reading provide to counter Rector’s claim?
- 5. What seems to be the major reason for “food insecurity”?