It’s hard to believe the number of people who go hungry in this country every day. It’s around 50 million. And about 17 million of those people are children. But I think our image of hungry people is distorted. I know mine has been. Hunger to me has always meant malnourished. Skin and bones. Living skeletons. These are examples of extreme hunger that has gone too far. But hunger in America often means the opposite: people who are overweight because the food they’re eating is crap. They don’t get the nutrients they need. And it’s often the root cause for a number of diseases, such as heart failure and diabetes. The cost of hunger and food insecurity to the U.S. economy is $167 billion per year.
It’s not just about the day-to-day hunger due to lack of food, but also the continual stress and wasted energy spent on figuring out how to make ends meet. How frustrating it must be for people who are driven to work but then make too much to qualify for food stamps. Food is the most basic of all human needs. It should be a right.
I recently watched the new documentary, “A Place at the Table” where I learned many of these facts. Like I’ve seen in movies such as “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn,” or read in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, part of the problem stems from the monoculture we’ve created. Our government actually encourages farmers to grow certain crops such as wheat, soy, and corn, which are then funneled into the food industry in the form of processed food. This so-called food is cheap and accessible to people who live in food deserts—places where it’s difficult to get fresh, healthy food.
Why should a state like Mississippi suffer from food deserts when its climate is prime for farming most of the year? Mississippi is known for its rank as the most obese state, largely due to its poverty rate and lack of access to healthy food.
According to the documentary, one out of two children will require food assistance during their lifetime. And this affects their development–physically, emotionally, and socially. As Harry Truman once said, a country is only as strong as its youth. For the first time ever, this generation of children is poised to live sicker and die younger than its parents’ generation.
Jeff Bridges, founder of Share Our Strength, says, “Charity is a great thing but it’s not the way to end hunger. We don’t fund our Defense Department through charity.” Why not spend the money on fixing hunger, which can do so much more for people’s health in the long run?
The issue isn’t about lack of food. It’s about poverty: offering people a living wage so they can afford food. We need to address this issue in our government. What can be more important than feeding our fellow citizens?