The public health crisis in the United States is typically illustrated with alarming obesity rates and images of super-sized fast food portions. However 50 million Americans, or one in four of the nation’s children, are food insecure, meaning that they do not always have access to healthy foods to sustain them throughout the day. The nation is caught in the crosshairs of obesity and food insecurity, and somehow we have managed to have both too much and too little food at the same time.
As Magnolia Pictures’ A Place at the Table points out, hunger in America is not actually caused by a food shortage. When most people think of hunger they think of utter starvation without realizing that the obesity problem that plagues their nation is another, albeit, different sign of hunger. In the United States, the problem is not that the next meal never comes, but that the meal is often full of a lot of empty calories. Thus food insecurity and obesity are linked because nutritionally weak and high-caloric foods, such as French fries or potato chips, offer the most caloric bang for the buck.
Undoubtedly, children are hit hardest by the plague of food insecurity in the United States. Nutrition deprivation for children under the age of three are at risk for limiting their physical and mental potential as undernutrition in these children can lead to reduced cognition and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases. And regardless of greater school funding and pressure on teachers to improve students’ performance, a hungry child may struggle to focus and succeed in their classes regardless of change in education policy. A nation is only as strong as its youth and hunger is ultimately weakening this nation.
Despite its relative lack of attention, hunger is not a new issue in America. A 1968 CBS documentary, Hunger in America, highlighted the fact that hunger is a basic human need and should also be a human right. The documentary inspired Americans to demand action. Policy makers listened and passed legislation to expand the Food Stamp program, an elderly feeding program, and a the school breakfast program. Regular Americans rose to the challenge and demanded a solution and hunger was greatly eradicated by the end of the 1970s.
However, that success was short-lived. A Place at the Table explains that The 1980s and 90s brought a different public sentiment regarding food insecurity and the issue of hunger in America shifted from being a public problem to a private problem as we began to rely on charities and churches to provide for the hungry. But charity food banks are not sustainable enough for long-term assistance, as they are intended to provide emergency support rather than chronic usage. People should not be forced to rely on these food banks for their day-to-day needs as charities cannot eradicate systemic hunger as they struggle to provide foods of significant nutritional value.
A Place at the Table also discusses how the price of produce has gone up since the 1980s while processed foods have remained cheap largely due to the agricultural subsidies that go to corn and wheat and largely ignore fruits, vegetables, and meat. These subsidies, which totaled $26 billion in 2000, are outdated as they date back to the Great Depression. FDR passed the Agriculture Adjustment Act in 1933 to provide emergency relief for families who risked losing their farms by purchasing their excess grain. But now the farming industry in America has changed, and consolidated and profitable corporations now dominate the agricultural landscape and have much less need for financial assistance. As the purpose of the current subsidy is no longer relevant, the film implies that America should consider making nutritious foods more affordable rather than focusing on corn and wheat production.
We need to tell our senators and representatives that if they are not with us on hunger, then we will not be with them for reelection. The problems in America are often unsolved due to political inaction and the bickering between blue and red ideology. But unlike many of the current hotly debated issues in congress, keeping our children properly fed is a bipartisan issue. Unfortunately food insecurity does not get the same level of media coverage as the nation’s more contentious issues. But as we have learned from the anti-hunger campaigns in the 1970s, the public can rise up, influence legislators, and ultimately alleivate or eliminate food insecurity in America. Now is the time to act.
Fir more information on how to fight food insecurity, text the word “food” to 77177 or visit A Place at the Table’s action center at http://actioncenter.takepart.com/apatt.