According to a new study released late last week by the US Department of Agriculture, some 50-million Americans, including nine million children, will go to bed tonight without having had enough to eat. That’s 15% of the country or one out of six citizens, roughly the equivalent of the population of California and Illinois combined being without sufficient food.
Put differently, a record 17.9-million U.S. households didn’t have enough food throughout the year to sustain active, healthy lives for all members of the family.
It has been more than 45 years since CBS Reports broadcast its landmark documentary “Hunger In America.” Yet the country still suffers from the same problems that existed in 1968, only on a much larger scale.
While not all hungry people experience homelessness, nearly all homeless people have experienced hunger at some point – including me. Even with food banks and places serving free meals, over the past year there have been more days than I care to remember when I didn’t have any food and went to sleep with my stomach growling in protest.
The effects carry into the next day. When I haven’t had enough to eat – or anything at all, which happened a few times – lethargy, listlessness and an inability to focus follow me like a beggar on a Mumbai street. When children are hungry, they don’t do well in school. So even if they eat next week, the residual impact will last the rest of their lives.
Add homelessness on top of the hunger crisis and the United States starts sounding like a third world nation.
“These numbers show the impact of the recession has not gone away yet,” says Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit anti-hunger group. “It’s one thing to say that wages are flat. But it’s something else to say that people aren’t getting enough to eat.”
This is demonstrated vividly by the growing number of people showing up at food banks, soup kitchens and bread lines; all have seen dramatic increases in requests for assistance since the Bush recession hit.
Five years ago, one of the food banks I now use offered one distribution day per week; it now has three and will open a fourth if it receives adequate donations of food and money. Tommy Grant, who manages the agency, told me as I waited in line for pasta, bread, dog food for Prince and other non-perishables, “Demand keeps going up but donations are flat.”
According to McClatchy newspapers, food stamp enrollment has nearly doubled to 46.4-million people during the first eight months of 2012, up from a monthly average of 26.3-million people in 2007. Meanwhile Republicans led by GOP vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan push for massive cuts in food stamp program funding to curb enrollment growth.
“With so many of our neighbors, friends and family worrying about where their next meal may be coming from, now is not the time to use federal nutrition programs as a trading chip to balance the budget,” Matt Knott says. He is the interim president of Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger organization.
Republicans want to change the food stamp program to a block grant to states. “Who in their right mind thinks (Gov. Scott) Walker or Rick Scott would use the money to feed the hungry?” asks Terry Dempsey, an anti-hunger activist in New York. “They wouldn’t use the mortgage fraud settlement money to reimburse homeowners for their loss. They sure as hell aren’t likely to feed starving kids.”
The news media has paid scant attention to the triple problems of hunger, homelessness and poverty in the country – even before the elections attracted its attention like carrion birds to a carcass.
This wasn’t always the case. Besides the CBS Reports documentary, in 1985, John Chancellor reported on the national NBC Evening News that 25-million Americans were hungry. Obviously moved by the extent of hunger, Chancellor warned that America’s “veneer of civilization seems to have worn very thin.”
Anti-hunger organizer Joel Berg found that over a 37 year period, not a single network did a story on hunger in America during 27 of them. Yet in his 2008 book, All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America, Berg concluded that press attention in the 1960s had a profound, positive impact on public policy.
More network news coverage is devoted to the do-nothing Kardashian family, and clearly none of them are going hungry, than to the problems of people who do not get enough to eat.
With the GOP and its presidential nominee committed to ending food stamps and other services for the hungry, poor and homeless, the problem is likely to grow larger and uglier than parts of Kim Kardashian’s body.
Author and journalist Charley James’ next book is about his experience becoming homeless. When published, Charley will donate a percentage of his advance and royalties to homeless organizations.
Follow Charley on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles.
Posted: Monday, 10 September 2012
Charley’s next book is about his experience being homeless. When published, he will donate a percentage of his royalties to homeless organizations.