Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reaction Paper on Food

Here is a decent reaction paper on hunger:

Ban Ki-Moon, the former United Nations General Secretary, wrote in a March 12, 2008 editorial (available at the Washington Post, editorial:

This is the new face of hunger, increasingly affecting communities that had previously been protected. Inevitably, it is the "bottom billion" who are hit hardest: people living on one dollar a day or less. When people are that poor, and inflation erodes their meager earnings, they generally do one of two things: They buy less food, or they buy cheaper, less nutritious food. The result is the same -- more hunger and less chance of a healthy future.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated in 2007 that 850 million people on the planet suffered from hunger, with 820 million of these living in developing countries.  One of the Millennium Development Goals was to get the number of persons experiencing hunger down to 400 million by 2012, but by 2009 the FAO estimated 1.023 billion humans suffered chronic hunger, and then 925 experienced this in 2010 (see FAO media release from September 14, 2010 at

As terrible as this hunger is in developing nations, I’m alarmed that there were 30 million people outside of the developing nations who experienced hunger in 2007. These were people living in developed nations; the rich nations. It seems to me ridiculous and unacceptable that in a wealthy food-producing place like our country there should be people experiencing hunger. In the United States our main policy to prevent hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, still called “food stamps” although the name has changed and most people use electronic debit cards for their benefits rather than “stamps”).  Lately there have been over 44 million Americans getting SNAP benefits in any given month ( These numbers have increased dramatically since the start of the Great Recession, and costs for the program have doubled over what they were in 2007 (from $35 billion to $72 billion in 2011). And yet, we know that as recently as 2006, a quarter of persons who qualified for SNAP benefits didn’t get them, mostly because they never applied for them, or their parents didn’t apply (see the participation rate report at In America today we have 14.5% of households experiencing some food insecurity (see Why is this?

Persons in America who experience poverty have many potential services from the public to keep them from becoming hungry.  SNAP is the biggest program, but there are also school lunch and breakfast programs for children. There are food pantries and soup kitchens or bread lines. Households may qualify to get monthly benefits through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or perhaps Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if someone in the household is disabled. Low-income families may get the Earned Income Tax Credit, and they may get medical care through Medicaid, and they may get help with energy bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). For housing, there are public housing units and vouchers for subsidized housing. And despite all this, there are still many Americans (over two million) who will skip meals or even go a whole day without eating because of their poverty in any given month.

I suppose these persons who go hungry are probably not using all the welfare benefits they could use.  They may be too embarrassed.  Or, perhaps they are ignorant of what they can get. There may be some people who have low incomes, but are not especially poor, and perhaps these people have too much income to qualify for many benefits, but then for some other reason they spend all their money on housing or medicine and have nothing left over at the end of a month to pay for food.  For example, a middle-class family that suddenly loses employment may still have too much income to qualify for food assistance, but they may have significant debt, or a someone may need very expensive medical care or medicine, and the family might choose to avoid becoming homeless or having their power turned off, or avoid dying from not taking expensive medicines, and those choices could mean that they run out of food.  Such families might be the most embarrassed and the most ignorant when it comes to getting welfare benefits.

How could social workers or food banks reach out to those who are ashamed or do not know where they can get assistance?  Outreach and publicity should be part of all the welfare programs and food bank missions. The goals for these programs and agencies should be to protect people against hunger, and that means they need to find anyone who might go hungry and convince them that everyone needs help now and then through life, and there is no shame in getting help for a period when one needs it. Food banks and food pantries should advertise more, both to collect more donations and to attract more “customers” to collect needed food. Low income neighborhoods may require the most advertising, but middle-class neighborhoods shouldn’t be overlooked. I believe if we do more to let people know about what help is available, and help them feel comfortable accepting the help after sudden layoffs or when they have exhausted their other resources, we should nearly eliminate hunger entirely, so that researchers will not be able to find the people who skip meals or go for a whole day without eating simply because they have no money for food. That should be our goal.

It is important for the United States to continue giving agricultural aid and food support to end hunger for the hundreds of millions of poorest people in the developing nations, but we also must work to eliminate hunger in our own society.

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