City Harvest Mobile Market food distribution site, New York. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
A Patriotic Fix for America’s Hunger Epidemic
Guest post by Michael Shank
One nation, underfed.
That’s the tagline for the new film out by Participant Productions, entitled A Place at the Table, which looks at America’s growing hunger epidemic. Participant Media, which produced Lincoln, The Help and Food Inc., does not disappoint with its latest take on what America must tackle. And in light of the March 1 sequester cuts to social programs, the film’s timing couldn’t be more appropriate.
Table’s statistics are overwhelming, but they are intended to overwhelm. Whether it’s the 50 million Americans who are living in food-insecure households (which means they are struggling with hunger), or the fact that 1-out-of-2 kids in America will, at some time in their childhood, have to rely on federal assistance for food. This is happening in the richest country in the world, and the problem is only getting worse. Under President Reagan there were 20 million Americans living with food insecurity. We’re well over double that figure now.
Table’s stories will overwhelm too. Whether it’s the fifth grader who is so hungry that she envisions her teacher as a banana and her fellow students as apples, or the single mother of two who finally gets a fulltime job only to realize that she is no longer food stamp eligible, a loss of $3-per-day that puts her family into serious food insecurity. That means her kids no longer have breakfast or lunch at daycare, and her youngest is already developmentally disabled due to improper nutrition. Lest we think she’s living large off her new job, food stamp eligibility ended once her salary passed $23,000, a figure hardly sufficient to pay for rent, utilities, insurance and transport, let alone food. (Most Americans are surprised to learn that the parents of hungry children typically have fulltime jobs.) Those who think food stamps breed dependency are wrong. As a child, raised singly by my mom after my dad died early, I too depended on food stamps. For many of us, they are critical lifelines of support while we get back on our feet.
Actor-director Jeff Bridges, who is featured in the film for his fight against chronic hunger, says we’re in denial about malnutrition in America, a country that maintains the highest rates of food insecurity in the International Monetary Fund’s ranking of advanced economies. The fix could be so patriotic; what could be more patriotic than caring for the nation’s children? But Bridges goes further: We would go to war with any country that did this to our kids. How true.
So what’s the hang-up? Why is it so difficult to feed America’s future properly? When all expenses are accounted for, we spend roughly $1 per child per school meal. One wonders why President Barack Obama couldn’t get the $10 billion over ten years that he wanted to improve childhood nutrition in schools. (Contrast this with the $10 billion we spend monthly on our military in Afghanistan.) In fact, Obama was only able to get $4.5 billion allocated—improving by .06 cents what we spend on children’s lunches—and much of that was paid for by siphoning money from the food stamp program. The irony.