(Sabbath is a Sunday feature that focuses on work and life)
Food & Poverty
I went to the grocery store today. There were three items on my list, but, somehow, I left the store with more than that. I didn’t think too much about what was in my basket. For many Americans, however, food weighs heavily on their mind. Many have lost their homes, their jobs, and now they have to ask: Where is my next meal coming from?
According to a report in the New York Times, 20,000 Americans each day are joining the food stamp program. Overall, 36 million are in the program. 12% of American receive food aid from the Federal government
The group most affected is children. The Times conducted a detailed study of the increase in food stamp aid. It found a problem that cuts across all parts of the country: “Use among children is especially high. A third of the children in Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee receive food aid. In the Bronx, the rate is 46 percent. In East Carroll Parish, La., three-quarters of the children receive food stamps.”
Many people who receive food aid work, but they do not make enough money to feed their families. Still there is scorn attached to the program. The Times cited Robert Rector, an expert from the Heritage Foundation, who mocks the food stamp program as just more of the “war on poverty” because it will make food stamp recipients not want to work. I’ll bet Mr. Rector and his family have enough to eat. He has a secure job – flacking for the type of people who will never have to worry about what they will eat or where they will live.
One program recipient says that he is not proud to take government aid, “but it helps me know I can feed my kids.”
According to Mark Winne, who heads an anti-hunger organization, the problem of hunger is growing fast. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that 37 million faced hunger, which the government now terms “food insecurity.” Today, that number has grown to 46 million. Winne looks at food stamps as a half step solution that keeps people from going hungry, but they don’t end poverty. Jobs are too transitory, and wages are going down. Poverty drives hunger.
Winne sees a different model of work approaching in which people are growing their own food and eating locally grown food. The question he does not address is cost. Locally grown food is usually more expensive than the factory-model fruits and vegetables sold at supermarkets (which are often located far from poor areas). Anyone who shops at a farmers market will testify that quality and price are higher.
The connected problems of hunger and poverty meet in work. We need more jobs, better wages, and access to good, healthy food. The problem is easy to state. The solution defies any simple answer.