America's Hidden Hunger and What We Can Do About It
'Tis the season for national gluttony, and a good time for a reality check.
As a country increasingly enamored of food, it's morally unacceptable that we tolerate growing numbers of hungry children.
We're talking real hunger, not the tummy rumbles most of us experience between meals. The sort of hunger where people worry if they or their children will eat that day, or if what they can afford will be adequate.
More than 50 million Americans fit this profile, including more than 17 million children. Food insecurity is a fact of life in nearly 15 percent of all households. The rates, thankfully, held fairly steady during the last year measured despite the recession, but they remain at their highest level since the government began compiling them in 1995.
How has this been allowed to happen? How is it that in a nation so bountiful, one in four children is at risk of being hungry?
Viewed through the prism of food, we Americans are a confused, sorry lot. One-third of adults are obese. Treatment centers are filled with young people who binge and purge in response to distorted perceptions about their own bodies. And a good proportion of us (myself included) are renewing our subscriptions to Food &Wine, tuning in the latest episode of "Top Chef."
And yet the deplorable problem of child hunger remains largely hidden amid these obsessions. And this isn't a social condition that will be solved by the numerous and well-intentioned food baskets delivered this time of year.
The USDA report, "Household Food Security in
Ask a teacher. This can mean children stealing to calm their growling stomachs. We're not talking about a kid lifting a candy bar on a dare, or sneaking a pint of milk under his coat for the sake of sheer delinquency. We're talking about kids who are hungry.
The report chronicles the range of need state by state using answers to survey questions. Respondents were asked questions such as, "In the last 12 months did any of the children ever not eat for a whole day because there wasn't enough money for food?" or to what extent they agreed with statements such as, "We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more."
What is to be done? Reaching the children through public schools is one solution.
Passing the bill would help rectify this atrocious statistic: On a typical school day, more than 55 percent of children who qualify for free or reduced-price school breakfasts don't get one.
The usual concerns about expanding access to a government safety net don't apply here. Ensuring that a child is fed at school is not going to create welfare dependency. Feeding children helps them focus in the classroom, and that's essential if we expect all children to reach higher benchmarks. Later, as educated working adults, they'll more than repay taxpayers for the meals.
And, unlike some programs that aim to help people, this one cuts to a basic principle. Sustenance and nutrition are necessary for life. Think back to Maslow's hierarchy. All the little things that contribute to academic success fall by the wayside when a child can't concentrate because he or she didn't eat breakfast.
Advocates have wisely focused their messaging away from attempting to solve all the underlying causes of childhood hunger. Clearly, the poor and sometimes outright criminal choices of adults are involved. But while eradicating poverty may be overwhelming, doing more to feed the nation's children is not.
Tackling hunger will obviously cost money. And given the focus on the nation's deficits, this might not seem like a good time to call for increased spending on current programs. But I'd rather drive a bumpy stretch of highway than know a kid is hungry. Effective federal spending is a matter of prioritizing.
We're a country that wisely demands children must attend school until a certain age. And with No Child Left Behind, we've laid down some pretty tough expectations about performance. But it's doubtful we'll meet those goals until we also enact No Child Comes to Class Hungry.
Available at Amazon.com:
Read the latest political news.
- America's Hidden Hunger and What We Can Do About It
- Belt-Tightening for United States Foreign Policy
- Public Perception Masks Stark Health Care Realities
- Global Warming Conference Faces Meltdown
- America's Credibility Deficit
- WikiLeaks Disclosures Not Earth Shattering
- A WikiLeaks Wake-up Call
- WikiLeaks May End Up Helping America
- WikiLeaks and The Invisible Government
- Wikileaks: More Than Just an Embarrassment
- Wikileaks: Undiplomatic Diplomacy
- Will WikiLeaks Hobble U.S. Diplomacy?
- How WikiLeaks Can Make Us Less Free
- Wikileaks: Small Revelations That May Cause a Big Idea to Take Hold
- Hunting Down Anwar al-Awlaki, Public Enemy No. 1
- FDA Cracks Down on Caffeine-Charged Alcoholic Drinks
- The American Dream: Pro and Con
- Four Loko: Boozy Up-and-Down Makes This Loko Loco
- Crossroads on the Path to a More Perfect Union
- The Right Way to Reform Healthcare
- The Future of American Power: Dominance and Decline in Perspective
- Everybody Discriminates in Some Way
- Banks Need to Pay for Foreclosure Shenanigans
- The Distinctly American Tradition of Charity
- Giving Away a Fortune to Keep the American Dream Alive
- Public Service Groups That Are Making a Difference
- Public Service: Citizenship Is More than Paying Taxes and Voting
- Public Service Is the Antidote For Voter Anger
- Raising People's Quality of Life Drives Public Service
- Public Service: Ordinary Americans Changing Communities for the Better
- How to Make a Career in Public Service
- How to Choose the Best Volunteering Option
- Recession Driving Changes in Corporate Philanthropy
- How to Avoid Charity Scams
- The Pros and Cons of Military Service
- Compulsory National Service Would Strengthen American Citizenship
- Compulsory National Service Would Undermine the American Character
- Why China Has a Point About Quantitative Easing
- Out of Play
- Eliminating Poverty: Lesson From Childhood
- Wall Street Had a Meltdown, and All We Got (Besides the Bill) Was an Interminable Argument
- Changing Our Tune to Natural Gas
- Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision Will Warp Policymaking
- Citizens United Decision: Money at Issue Funds Speech Not Candidates
- Education and Wealth: Strongest Predictors of a Long Life
- 'Citizen Journalism' Fad is Not Journalism
- Life's Little Lows Big Part of Going to High School
- Happiness is a Matter of Perspective
- Binge Drinking Numbers Rising
- The Republicans' Bizarre Attacks on Elites
- Joe Klein and Diane Sawyer Tour the Real Reality
- Troubled Times: When Mark Zuckerberg's Generosity Is Not Good Enough
- Why on Earth Does America Want a Stronger Chinese Currency?
- A Nation of Peasants?
- Public Sector Workers Are the New Privileged Elite Class
- Raising Retirement Age Will Help Save Social Security
- Cutting Benefits Isn't the Way to Save Social Security
- How the New Consumer Bureau Will Help You
- Setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- The Truth Behind UFO Sightings and the U.S. Air Force
- American Dream of Home Ownership Has Become a Nightmare
- 5 Traits of the New American Consumer
- Stoned on Righteousness
America's Hidden Hunger and What We Can Do About It
(c) 2010 Mary Sanchez