Hunger in the United States
One of the most disturbing and extraordinary aspects of life in this very wealthy country is the persistence of hunger. In 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) eliminated references to hunger, utilising, instead, various categories of food insecurity. This did not represent a change in what was measured.
Very ow food insecurity (described as “food insecurity with hunger” prior to 2006) means that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food.
This means that people were hungry, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food,” for days each year.
Although hunger in the US is less dire than in developing nations, it is nonetheless quite serious. Starvation is rare here, but malnourishment is not.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, 36.2 million people lived in households considered to be food insecure in 2007. Of these 36.2 million:
Use of Emergency Food Assistance and Federal Food Assistance Programmes
There are federal and state programmes that work with families who are poor and food insecure. In 2007, 53.9 per cent of food insecure households received help from at least one of the three major federal food programmes, which are implemented by the USDA — Food Stamps, the National School Lunch Programme and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Programme for Women, Infants and Children.
Spending for government nutrition programmes has for decades lagged far behind the need. Meanwhile, Congress generally responds to increased demand by tightening the eligibility for assistance.
Food banks are a treasured source of aid for millions of needy Americans, but they increasingly face shortfalls in supplies and their ability to help. Nationally, donations are up about 18 per cent but demand has grown to 25 to 40 per cent. As fuel costs increase, food stores stock fewer inventories to reduce shipping costs, thus making them less available to contribute to food banks. Food producers are also cutting inventory with like results while government surplus programmes make far less food available than they did in years past.
Sadly, this results in the nation’s food banks having less resource in carrying on their charitable work of combating hunger, even as the demand for their help increases. Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest, has a network of 206 food banks. About 70 per cent of new clients are making their first visit to a food bank and many are working at jobs:
While work on the Farm Bill is finished, there are other legislative opportunities for addressing hunger, primarily in the US. Child Nutrition Programmes, including the school breakfast and lunch programmes and programmes for women, infants and children will expire soon and must be reauthorised in 2009.
NGO Response to Hunger
Many non-profit organisations are working together to make sure that there are new programmes that address the issue of hunger as well as adequate funding in order to carry out those programmes.
It has been proven that children and low income families are not getting the nutrition that leads to a healthy lifestyle. Many foods that are consumed are high in sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, causing high blood pressure and obesity.
In all of this dire news of hunger and malnutrition, there are a number of bright spots where community-based organisations are creating programmes and activities that help eliminate hunger. Many of these organisations operate under these principles:
There are over 70 million gardeners in the US and about 25 million people who are chronically hungry, including 9.9 million children.
Plant a Row for the Hungry encourages gardeners to plant an extra row, and donate the produce to local food banks and community service agencies. There is no organisation that oversees this programme but it has taken hold in the US where people are growing food to feed their communities.
In Wisconsin, the Kane Street Community Garden, a part of the Hunger Task Force of La Crosse, aims to eliminate hunger within and by the community. Volunteers plant and harvest the many crops that grow in the nearly two-acre garden. What is not handed out to the public and volunteers are added to the Food Recovery Programme, which goes out to any of the 42 agencies served by the Hunger Task Force.
Also in Wisconsin is Growing Power, a national non-profit organisation and land trust that supports people from diverse backgrounds and the environments where they live by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities.
Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of community food systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.
Growing Power is a global model for sustainable community food systems, having done outreach trainings in Macedonia, Ukraine, Tennessee, London, Arkansas and other places. Their Farm-City Market Basket (FCMB) Programme is a year-round food security programme that supplies safe, healthy and affordable vegetables and fruit to communities at a low cost. FCMB provides a market for small farmers to sell their food while feeding communities in “food deserts” affordable healthy food.
US Farm Bill
The Farm Bill is a compherensive legislation on agriculture in the United States. Annually reviewed and ratified, the bill sets the the government’s subsidies to farmers, especially agri-businesses among others. Despite the inconsistency of these subsidies with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the threat of a veto from then US President George W. Bush, the strong lobbying in Congress managed to reinstate these subsidies.
As US Department of Agriculture Secretary Edward Shafer said, “Today, the United States House and Senate announced the completion of a farm bill that unfortunately fails to include much needed reform and increases spending by nearly $20 billion.”
Estimated to cost the government US$289 billion in the next five years, the Farm Bill of 2008 earmarked US$200 billion for domestic food aid; US$43 billion for subsidies for rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops; US$27 billion for conservation programmes; and US$23 billion for crop insurance.
Sources: Khor, Martin. (19 May 2008). “New US farm bill will anger the world.” ; Ryan, Missy. (12 May 2008). “U.S. farm bill could run afoul of global trade rules.” ; The Farm Bill of 2008 webpage of the USDA
In New York, Rochester Roots develops selfreliance by providing the education and tools that help low-income people obtain nutritious and locally grown food through the development and marketing of urban produce and products. They strive to achieve this vision through their participation in the local food system and through education and advocacy.
Sharing the Harvest is a programme in which produce is distributed to participating lowincome youth and neighbouring residents so that they feed their families, or for educational purposes in the classroom.
Through their South Wedge Farmers Market, Rochester Roots engages in entrepreneurial activities with vendors, youth and seniors. Rochester Roots also teaches the community how to cook produce into nutritious meals in their Community Kitchen Cooking Class programme and offers teenagers the opportunity to intern with local chefs.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Rescue Mission Inc. (BRM) is a community-based organisation in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York that develops creative solutions to food justice, community health and the economic challenges their community endures on a daily basis. Its programmes include the Bed- Stuy Farm, the Neighbourhood Farming Institute, the Food Outreach Programmes and the Malcolm X Boulevard Community Farmers Market.
In 2007, the Bed-Stuy Farm yielded 7,000 pounds of fresh organic produce, which was distributed to families at risk of hunger through BRM’s emergency food programmes. Community education programmes are held at the Farm. These include topics such as nutrition and urban agriculture, entrepreneurship and leadership skills.
Their Neighborhood Farming Institute is a classroom and community center focused on the Farm while the Food Outreach programme provides weekly food pantry services. BRM also runs the Malcolm X Boulevard Community Farmers Market.
Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs is a movement that promotes the distribution of food and other resources over other spending priorities such as warfare. Formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States by antinuclear activists in 1980, Food Not Bombs has been growing, expanding its advocacies as well as bases. While serving communities especially during disasters and tragedies such as September 11 events, the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and also protesters during rallies, Food Not Bombs has also been opposing neoliberal capitalism which has resulted in the current food and financial crises.