Going Hungry in the Richest Nation on Earth
By Matthew O. Berger
November 24, 2010
WASHINGTON, Nov 24, 2010 (IPS) - While many U.S.
residents prepare for their annual Thanksgiving feast
Thursday, one in six are at risk of hunger - including a
quarter of all children in the country.
Globally, 925 million people, or a little less than 15
percent of the world population, is undernourished.
Ironically, Washington's efforts to alleviate hunger
abroad may be more successful than at home, analysts
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate last week
that 49 million U.S. residents, including 17 million
children, lacked adequate food at some point during 2009
came about a week before the annual post-harvest
celebration of Thanksgiving, during which many U.S.
kitchens are filled with the bounties expected by
residents of such a wealthy country. But not everyone
can expect those bounties, it turns out.
The number of "food insecure" households in the U.S.
jumped in 2008 due to the economic crisis, but failed to
come back down in 2009.
To address this persistent problem, the U.S. government
has nutrition assistance programmes, and those were
generally expanded in the wake of the economic crisis.
They seem to have worked over the past couple years.
Even though unemployment rose from just under nine
million to over 14 million between 2008 and 2009, food
insecurity did not increase, points out Kevin Concannon,
U.S. under- secretary for food, nutrition and consumer
These numbers, he says, "are very supportive of the
experience that we are hearing across the country that
the 15 federal nutrition assistance programmes are
indeed doing what they are intended to do, and that is
respond to people. We have seen the strengths of these
programmes in action."
But as Washington's attention has turned to reducing the
federal debt, this nutrition safety net is once again
being slimmed down.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme,
formerly called the Food Stamp Programme, for instance,
is meant to prevent to allow the poorest to afford food
even when it is too expensive for them. It was expanded
through economic stimulus funding, but now faces
Some of those cuts are because money will go to other
nutrition assistance programmes, but some is simply
because of an emphasis of politics.
Leading up to the U.S. Congressional elections earlier
this month, "both sides [Republicans and Democrats] were
convinced that any poverty-related discussion would
scare away middle-class voters, ignoring the reality
that tens of millions of Americans, formerly solidly
middle-class, were teetering on the edge of poverty and
hunger themselves," says Joel Berg, executive director
of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
Meanwhile, reauthorisation of the Child Nutrition Act,
which would provide funding for school meals programmes,
has yet to be approved by Congress.
President Barack Obama has also called for 400 million
dollars to be invested in expanding access to fresh,
healthy food in underserved, traditionally poor
neighbourhoods - sometimes called "food deserts", where
convenience stores and fast food restaurants are often
the only food options nearby.
For now, though, the pockets of low-income communities
without adequate food that have existed for decades
Fighting hunger abroad
Needless to say, if hunger cannot even be eliminated in
the U.S., the picture is far more dire overseas. The
U.N. says that 925 million people will suffer chronic
hunger this year, down from 2009's one billion, but
still the second largest number on record.
A report released Monday by the NGO Bread for the World,
though, says that progress against this daunting
challenge is possible, and that a large part of that
progress should be the U.S.'s Feed the Future
Feed the Future will funnel 3.5 billion dollars over
three years to overseas development assistance focused
It reverses what Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID), calls the
"decades-long neglect of agriculture-led development".
Calling the programme the most important development
strategy to come out of Washington in 50 years, Shah
said Monday that Bread for the World's report "aptly
reminds us that in order to tackle the root causes of
hunger and malnutrition, we need to invest in
smallholder farmers and focus on integrating nutrition
and agriculture development through a country-led
Last week, Shah and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton announced that Feed the Future would be overseen
by USAID and, Monday, Shah announced a Bureau of Food
Security within the agency to manage the initiative.
The U.S.'s recent increased focus on food security
abroad is thought to be in reaction to the food price
crisis of 2007- 08, after which many governments
realised they had been underinvesting in agriculture.
"The food price crisis was a wakeup call. It started a
new global conversation about hunger, malnutrition and
food security," said Asma Lateef, director of Bread for
the World. "Two years later, with U.S. leadership, there
is a renewed focus on smallholder agriculture and
reversing decades of neglect - just as we enter a new
period of rising food prices."
The U.N. says that two-thirds of the world's hungry are
in just seven countries, but it is clear there are
significant pockets of undernourishment everywhere -
even in the United States.
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