Why are Americans still hungry?

If you haven’t read The New Face of Hunger by Tracie McMillan in National Geographic, you need to. The article, with accompanying photos and video provides several portraits of food insecure families across the U.S. The families profiled and their stories provide a human face for the statistic that one-sixth of Americans don’t have enough food to eat.

The stories are heartbreaking. Most of the families are struggling to get by on the money they get from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Their dollars are stretched thin as they struggle to pay their bills and support their families on limited incomes. And while they are able to hit up the food pantry and purchase food with government assistance, much of the food that’s available is processed crap full of empty calories. The combination of poverty and food deserts lead to only one thing: hunger.

Not everyone has the luxury of growing their own produce.
Not everyone has the luxury of growing their own produce.

This is a really well-done article that outlines hunger in America. It’s not as black and white as the politicians and pundits make it out to be, although wouldn’t it be nice if it were? The families profiled all have at least one working adult with a full-time job. All have children. And all are trying make do with what they’re given, finding creative ways to make their food dollars stretch. There may be some who will say, “Why can’t both adults work?”—those people have obviously never had to pay for childcare, the cost of which often rivals a house payment. If you’re on a limited income, paying for childcare isn’t an option.

It’s crazy how little many of these families are given to spend on food each month. I just went grocery shopping today and spent over $100. That will last us for the week; however, we’re also fortunate to have a garden of vegetables outside. Food is expensive, even if you plan on cooking your meals from scratch instead of out of a box. Grocery stores are pricey. If you’re fortunate enough to have a Trader Joe’s or a co-op in your community, you’ll probably spend much less, but it would still be hard to scrape by on $100/month. (Not to begrudge the supermarkets—they have a business to run, too, and let’s face it, their profit margin isn’t huge.)

“[M]ost of the working poor don’t have the time or know-how required to eat well on little. Often working multiple jobs and night shifts, they tend to eat on the run. Healthful food can be hard to find in so-called food deserts—communities with few or no full-service groceries.”

Food banks fill the void for many of these Americans; however, with more Americans feeling food insecure, these organizations are left stretched thin, struggling for food and cash donations and volunteer man-hours. There are some food banks, like the one that serves my community, that offer cooking classes to their patrons, so that they know how to cook the food and fresh produce available. And, with food stamps being accepted by many farmers’ markets, it’s easier to for people to get ideas from their friendly farmer about how to prepare the food.

However, if you live in a food desert—a community that has few or no supermarkets within walking or public transit distance—then you have fewer healthy options. Pre-packaged and processed foods are all that are available. Those empty calories may help people feel full; however, they only leave the person overweight and malnourished.

My heart goes out to the families profiled, as well as other families in their position. Take a moment to read the article, watch the video and put yourself in their shoes.

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