Hunger in America: It’s Time To Take Action

July 4, 2013 Kristance Harlow
Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash


When you’re chowin’ down on your Grandma’s potato salad remember this fact: 50 million people in America suffer from hunger, that is 1 in 6 people, and 16 million of them are children. Hunger is known as food insecurity, not having “enough money to regularly obtain all the food [families] need” suffering from malnutrition, missing meals because of lack of food, and not knowing where your next meal is coming from. In Vermont, my home state, 19.3% of children go hungry and in Oregon, where I was born, 29.1% of children are food insecure.Independence Day, America’s ultimate patriotic holiday, full of fireworks, barbecues, and chugging flag emblazoned Budweiser. Even the least patriotic amongst us can rally excitement over the long weekend and excuse to party. Even overseas Americans throw parties, two Independence Days went by  when I lived in Great Britain and treated my friends to good ole Amurrrican BBQ chicken and awesome classic rock.

Obesity, Hunger, and Poverty

Philantopic and Feeding America

These numbers are staggering, the USA is the richest country in the world and produces enough food for everyone in the entire world but wastes 40% of its food and 7% of fields that are planted in America are never harvested, and the US is in last place among the IMF’s Advanced Economy Food Insecurity rankings.  It is not for lack of food production that people go hungry. The number one cause of food insecurity is poverty. 85% of food insecure households have at least one working adult, this becomes a problem because people are not earning livable wages. There are families with two parents who are both working and still cannot afford to feed their households.

In America, the cost of nutritious food is exorbitant compared to the cost of junk food. Obesity and hunger go hand in hand, because they are signs of not being able to get the nutrition necessary to live a healthy life. Many people who go hungry are also overweight because fresh fruit and vegetables are much more expensive than Ramen and potato chips. The cost of healthy eating has gone up by 40% since 1980, and 1980 is when the obesity epidemic started and partnered with that the price of junk food declined by as much. Next time you complain about seeing people use food stamps to buy chips instead of apples, think about the price of each. We all have to eat and if you have to choose between a bag of chips that 3 children can share or 1 apple that will leave those 3 children still hungry, what would you do?

The issue is complex with a lot of factors that play into it, much of it is that unhealthy additives are subsidized but healthy food is not. The documentary “A Place at the Table” explains this in more detail. They talk about areas called ‘food deserts’ where people do not have easy access to fresh fruit and vegetables, 23.5% of Americans live in these food deserts, and 75% are in urban areas.

The Greater Implications of Hunger

Kids who go hungry suffer dire health consequences: their growth is stunted; they are more likely to get sick and stay sick and even be hospitalized; they are fatigued on a regular basis; and it affects their health in adulthood increasing obesity and medical issues. Children who are food insecure and under the age of three learn slower than their peers who are properly nourished. Malnourished students struggle with concentration, learning, and general school performance. Undernourished students are also more likely to be suspended than their properly fed friends. Not to mention the emotional consequences that cause more behavioral problems and higher levels of anxiety. Adults who are food insecure suffer from chronic illnesses, are more likely to develop diabetes, and obtain “lower scores on physical and mental health exams” (Feeding America). Adults, like children, will have increased anxiety and aggression..

Charity and Food Programs

Sometimes life throws curveballs and charities serve a very important role, I am passionate about nonprofits and the work that many of them do, but we need a systematic change. When my family’s house burnt down we were saved by the charity of family, friends, and the community. Charity cannot be relied on to solve this problem, as a country we do not rely on charity to fix the potholes in our roads, plow the streets in the winter, or to fund our military.

Half, HALF of all children will be on food assistance sometime in their lives. Yes, 50%! In small towns people are earning less, there are fewer jobs and people are having to move for jobs. Food banks are stereotyped as a place people who are unemployed or disabled, but really a lot of people who are getting assistance are employed and work multiple jobs.

Impoverished Workers and Charity

Without charities many people would go without food. In my last post I wrote about the poultry industry and here is a specific example of charities that exist for show and are part of the problem and not the solution. Tyson has a food program called Hunger Relief under their charity Tyson Cares, that they say helps the hungry. In October 2006 35,000 pounds of meet were donated to Wilkesboro, North Carolina by Hunger Relief. That is a lot of food and on paper sounds like an overwhelming act of charity.

Tyson is one of the major employers in Wilkes County and out of 29 charity services offered by Tyson in 13 towns across North Carolina, Wilkes County has 16 of those services in just 4 towns. Half of the households in Wilkes County make less than $20,000 yearly and a third make under $15,000 annually, this is far below average and most certainly below the poverty line, 78% of people in Wilkes County earn below the threshold as defined by the government’s SNAP (food stamp) program. Tyson’s own website gave much of this information which I originally accessed for a research paper in 2006, and at the time their website described the people of Wilkes County as living “on the edge of hunger because they lack sufficient resources for life’s necessities…the low wages…are not enough to cover the cost of [living]” (Quote from Tyson website accessed 2006). They employ the people, pay them well below a livable wage, and then give charity food donations to those same people. Those kind of charitable endeavors are a marketing ploy to portray their company as one that helps communities.

The solution is complex, and to see what you can do about hunger in your community I recommend watching these two documentaries about this epidemic:

A Place at the Table which is an insightful documentary full of emotional interviews, factual statistics, and really breaks down the problem so it’s understandable.

Hunger Hits Home which is currently FREE on iTunes (go download it!), this is the documentary that inspired this blog post. This documentary showcases heartbreaking stories of families and their struggles with getting enough food to eat that will make you angry at the system which allows cycle to continue.

Both of these documentaries will change how you see hunger in America. It’s an issue of patriotism, of love for your country to do something to end hunger in America.

Do Something

Here are some resources that are easy to navigate and give clear information on what you can do to get involved, there is also information if you need help obtaining food yourself. Help or get help, and follow these links to find out how:

How We Fight Hunger – Feeding America

No Kid Hungry – Action Center

A Place at the Table – Take Action

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