Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hunger and Justice

From Mark Bittman's column today in the New York Times, a penetrating suggestion: "Without economic justice there is no nutritional literacy, there is no good eating, there is no health. And there’s increasing concern on the part of many Americans that too many of us lead diminished lives — and in some cases, dramatically shortened lives as well."

Bittman's discussion centers on the many current issues of unjust treatment of minorities and the poor, pointing out how nearly impossible it is for children in impoverished neighborhoods with inadequate schools to attain the skills needed to make a better living than their parents. Food insecurity is only one of the many injustices they suffer.

In reading this column, I found myself wondering about food insecurity in America, a topic that I often return to. National Geographic last fall offered several fascinating studies of food topics, particularly an article titled "The New Face of Hunger" by Tracie McMillan. She writes:
"To witness hunger in America today is to enter a twilight zone where refrigerators are so frequently bare of all but mustard and ketchup that it provokes no remark, inspires no embarrassment. Here dinners are cooked using macaroni-and-cheese mixes and other processed ingredients from food pantries, and fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten only in the first days after the SNAP payment arrives. Here you’ll meet hungry farmhands and retired schoolteachers, hungry families who are in the U.S. without papers and hungry families whose histories stretch back to the Mayflower. Here pocketing food from work and skipping meals to make food stretch are so common that such practices barely register as a way of coping with hunger and are simply a way of life."
Through several photo essays, this article described the efforts of several families in different parts of the country to avoid hunger. While Bittman stressed the injustice of a system that has plenty of food and plenty of everything else, yet allows such wide discrepancies in family well-being, this article just documents the struggles, the dependence on food pantries, the unavailability of fruit and vegetables (which are definitely wanted), the sadness of parents whose children are underfed. And she provides charts and maps showing where families are most dependent on food aid, where hunger is the worst, and how farm subsidies fail to create general nutritional benefits.

Three images from the detailed slide shows in National Geographic:

One sixth of Americans don't have enough to eat. This is the basic and cruel fact about our society. I wish I shared the optimism of Bittman who thinks we can solve this problem. Here's his conclusion:
"This is unjust and intolerable. The bad news is that we should be ashamed of ourselves: As long as these things are true, this is not the country we say it is or the country we want it to be. The good news is that it’s fixable, not by 'market forces' but by policies that fund equal education, good-paying jobs, and a good food, health and well-being program for all Americans."


Cakelaw said...

That is sad. The statistics probably aren't that different here, scaled down for our smaller population.

Johanna GGG said...

What a sad post! It is hard to believe that over twice the population of Australia are classified as hungry in the USA (and like Cakelaw I know we have our own problems with hunger here). I have battles with my little girl who likes to tell me she is hungry and yet I don't think she knows what it is. I still think one of the best articiulations of this sort of poverty is in the words of Common People, the brilliant song by Pulp in the UK.