Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The U.S. Food Crisis: 1 in 5 Went Hungry Last Year. Now What?

Sometime in the fall last year, I was at my local supermarket in San Francisco’s Mission District, picking through some melons when I heard the unmistakable sound of a body hit the floor behind me — hard. I turned to find a woman being handcuffed and led into an employees-only area, as she pleaded with the security guard: “I lost my job and need to feed my children.” It was nothing short of heartbreaking.

Later, as I waited to pay for my groceries at the register, I watched another woman set off an alarm as she ran out of the supermarket with bananas and baby food in her arms. She made it — and presumably was able to feed her child that night.

I thought of that desperate day again when I read an extensive report released today on the state of food hardship in America (pdf) by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). In it comes the striking news that one in five Americans went hungry at some point in 2009.

Food hardship was measured as those who responded affirmatively to the question, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” By the end of last year, the national food hardship rate was 18.5 percent. For households with children, the rate was much higher, at 24.1 percent.

For the general population, food hardship, which is the most basic indicator of general socio-economic hardship, was higher in 2008 than in 2009, but let’s not pat ourselves on the back just yet — one in eight Americans are on food stamps today. Indeed, it appears that thanks to social programs like SNAP, food hardship did not continue to skyrocket throughout last year. With the recession, eligibility for food stamps was eased and benefits were increased. (Thank you, welfare state!)

Most of the report’s stats are dismal — and I could continue enumerating them to paint a more detailed picture of our hunger crisis, but I would rather hone in on the data that might hold some real political capital. You can speak about national hunger rates but hawking national data doesn’t hold reluctant or deluded politicians accountable — America is a large, amorphous entity for which everyone ought but often no one feels responsible or moved to act.

That’s why I am especially excited by the fact that the FRAC report gives us a highly localized look at hunger in America — and breaks it down by congressional district:

Of the 436 Congressional Districts (including the District of Columbia), 311 had a food hardship rate of 15 percent or higher. In 139 of them the rate was 20 percent or higher. Practically every Congressional District in the country had more than a tenth of respondents reporting food hardship.

Districts with the worst rates can be found in a whole range of states — California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Mississippi, New York — but, on the aggregate, hunger is most widespread in the South. These are districts represented in Washington, for the most part, by right-wingers and Democrats-only-in-name generally opposed to the expansion of welfare programs, even in the face of a massive recession.

This report could not have come at a better time. Just this morning came news that the Senate is planning a $80 billion job-creation bill that will cut Americans’ extended unemployment benefits (the House bill would not do this). This is the kind of boneheaded move that is predicated on the infallibility of the welfare-state-is-bad and/or anything-but-debt theses, and not in reality.

The battle worth fighting in 2010 is one that steers the government back to caring for the interests of regular Americans — and away from the corporations and financial institutions that have benefited most from governmental attention in this recession. There will be a lot of debate — and one-sided fear-mongering — about the expansion of low-income social assistance and unemployment programs, ranging from food stamps to COBRA; there will be a lot of talk about rising debt and budget-freezing, too.

But reports like FRAC show that as bad as hunger is today, it would be far worse without the social programs currently in place. President Obama has set a goal of eliminating child hunger by 2015. Pressuring Congress with the facts on hunger in their own districts is a good place to start working toward that goal, which while lofty, considering our current state, is completely achievable, especially in a country as wealthy — and bountiful — as ours.


Now with our Customary Land Tenure System in Papua New Guinea. We do not see this a major problem. A family who earn less than a US dollar a day in the rural communities still have surplus of organic food and water from rivers, streams, and creeks. Adding to that, they have a house (a simple traditional hut) but they do not have to worry about all the bills.

The people who are starving in USA do not have land like the Papua New Guineans. Given the economic crisis, and companies are down sizing their labour force as cost cutting measures, how will the millions of parents cater for food and water for their families?

With the PNG government push for Land Reforms and encouraging Customary landowners to register their lands for economic development is a "death trap". Becarefull Papua New Guinea, DO NOT BE FOOLED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. I totally agree with you and PNGeans should not be fooled to give up their land and the educated population of this country should let people know of the impacts that come with giving up customary land and not looking at the short term gain which is mostly money.
    The story of the 2 mothers is so heartbreaking, and this is also happening in PNG when our people come into urban centres then cannot look after themselves and their families. If only they stayed back in their village and worked the land.
    How can we the educated people of PNG that love our country do something to stop this????? We all see it, read it, hear about it but what have we done to help in this situation now and into the future?

  2. The sad thing is that, there a few elites in the ranks of DR before their names are putting together working documents, papers,and recommendations for land reforms for registration of customary land. Some identify themselves with the whites and deny themselves as Melanesian.They think that the Melanesian ways are primitive. Others are there for the big bucks they make as consultants and they don't give a damn, what happens to PNG.

  3. what if its all simple math and theres to many of us theses are some things to think about what life skills do u have what can u give to a whole what do you hAVE TO OFERER DUDES IF U DONT HAVE ANY COMMON SENESE WHAT DO U REALLY HAVE TO OFFER SO LEARN A SKILL ASK FOR THE TRUTH U AY NOT LIKE IT BUT THATS LIFE IF U PULL IT USE IT GOD BLESS

  4. Well its a shame that with all the technologies and the money in the world, countries like the US have no answers to the problems.


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