Hungry isn’t a word most would use to describe America. Instead, people use words like wealthy and great.
But 50 million people in this wealthy and great nation are hungry, meaning 1 in 4 children are “food insecure” and do not know where they will find their next meal.
One culprit here is poverty: 15.7 million children (21.6%) in America live in poverty. Many American mothers and fathers cannot afford to feed their children nutritious, whole foods, instead resorting to cheaper, processed and packaged goods. Since 1980, the cost of fruits and vegetables has gone up 40%, but the price of processed foods has gone down 40% (mostly due to crop subsidies for corn and soy but that is another post all together).
The most nutritious foods in the grocery store, such as fresh produce, are the most expensive.
As I was thinking about this post, I talked to some friends about this very issue. One friend grew up right at the poverty line for a portion of his life, often eating saltines and peanut butter for breakfast and lunch. He said, “There was never enough food, but isn’t that a first world problem?” Interesting statement. Yes, most of our children are not starving, reduced to bloated bellies and bones. But in this country, we have plenty of food, yet 50 million of our citizens do not have enough to eat. And the food they do eat is cheap–filled with chemicals, sodium, corn syrup, and fat. While they may not be starving, they are slowly wasting away due to poor nutrition and poor health (obesity and all its risk factors are directly related to poor nutrition).*
How are members of America’s working poor, living at or below the poverty line supposed to care for their families? Many of them qualify for government food assistance (SNAP benefits). In fact, nearly half of American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point in their lives. In 2011, the average monthly SNAP benefit per person was $4.38 a day.* That’s less than $5 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I went to the grocery store with $5 in my pocket to see if I could buy ingredients for a nutritious meal. Instead I came out with a bunch of canned goods and a heavy heart. I noticed the most attractive (especially for picky kids) but least nutritious meals were surprisingly inexpensive.
While you and I know that frozen dinners and Hot Pockets are not the best choice for dinner, many don’t. They only know that for less than a dollar a meal, their kids’ bellies will be full.
So what can we do? How can we change the status-quo and make sure our nation’s hungry have access to nutritious food?
As a group of change-agents we can:
- Tell Congress to protect federal nutritional programs. It only takes 20 seconds.
- Educate ourselves. Watch A Place at the Table to learn more about your fellow Americans and food insecurity. Here’s the trailer but you can watch the entire film on Amazon, iTunes, or look for a screening in your local area.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
If you’re struggling to put food on the table or just want to eat yummy and nutritious food for a fair price, check out these recipe links:
Three Bean Chili (omit the meat and beer in order to make this economical; it’s just as good and lasts for days!)
Roasted Tomato Sauce with Pasta (SOLE Food Kitchen is an excellent blog for eating fresh on a strict budget.)
Chiles Rellenos Egg Bake (from Andrea’s Garden Cooking)
*All statistics found at Share Our Strength / No Kid Hungry, another resource for learning more and getting involved.