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Starvation, American Style


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fifty million Americans are “food insecure,” meaning they literally don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Half of all U.S. children need food assistance at some time.

Rep. Lois Capps and actor Jeff Bridges presented the film A Place at the Table Saturday night, March 23, in Santa Barbara to highlight this reality.

The film mixes appalling statistics with the actual lives, up close, of real American families struggling to eat. And most of these families are working families.

What many forget is that U.S. hunger was once almost eliminated. By President Nixon, following the CBS Reports program Hunger in America in 1968. We know how.

President Reagan made deep cuts in Nixon’s successful programs. His answer: Charity. The result: Tens of millions of hungry Americans.

When this author was a child, subsidized school lunches were available to all. Reagan forced children to show “need” by presenting a humiliating ID card at each meal.

Kathleen de Chadenedes of the Orfalea Foundation’s local School Food Initiative explained that the resulting bureaucracy is not just humiliating for children. It is also wasteful. It’s as cheap to provide the meals to everyone.

Stuffed and Starved author Raj Patel explained how hunger and obesity go together. Because of subsidies for corn and wheat, it is ten times cheaper to get calories from junk food like chips than from wholesome fruits and vegetables.

And 23% of Americans live in “food deserts” with no fruits or vegetables at all. The average food stamp allocation is just $3/day. Survival means junk food.

And we meet working families that do not qualify for food stamps because they “make too much.” We meet Rosie, who cannot focus in school because her stomach is always growling. Her teacher brings her Food Bank bags, but they contain mostly starch and sugar.

Barbie Izquierdo is in tears because she cannot offer her children basic food even though she is working full time. She was part of a group featured in the film that went to Congress to ask for an increase in school lunch funding. Experts explain that child malnutrition costs the United States far more than feeding them properly would cost. Malnutrition in the first five years causes permanent brain damage.

More than 25% of children would not qualify for military service now because of bad nutrition. Ironically, military readiness was why President Truman started the school lunch program.

The Republican Congress grudgingly increased school lunch funding by six cents a meal. (The typical school meal has just 95 cents of food.) But they took half of that money from Food Stamps, meaning the children will just be hungrier when they go home.

But the underlying facts are even more pervasive: While top incomes have soared in recent decades, working poor wages have actually dropped.

Conservative Republican President Nixon talked about the need for full employment and food for all. Now, his views are too liberal for even the Democratic Party. That is how far this country has changed. The result is both malnutrition and obesity.

There is no shortage of wholesome food in America. Just a shortage of economic justice.

Billy Collins & Aimee Mann

Presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, Former U.S. Poet Laureate ... Read More