Hunger: A Pressing and Compex Issue

The United States boasts to be one of the most advanced, wealthiest, and industrialized nations in the world. Yet despite its progress, America has yet to solve one pressing issue: hunger, and more specifically childhood hunger. As of 2014, 13.1 million children live in food-insecure households in America. These children daily experience the unawareness of where their next meal will come from. For many, free or reduced-price school lunch programs are the only steady source of food for 9 months of the year. Yet over weekends, holidays, and summer breaks, these kids rely on the programs made available for families facing hunger issues. Proper nutrition is vital to the growth of children as it forms a solid foundation for “future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity” (Weinfield et al.). Unfortunately for these children, food insecurity remains a daily obstacle that threatens this foundation.

Childhood hunger is by no means a simple problem with an easy fix. Children affected by food insecurity rely on others to provide them with food vital to their growth. Yet those providers often face numerous other factors that cause them to be at risk for hunger themselves. For example, young mothers face a raised possibility to experience poverty and, in turn, food insecurity. In Christine Stevens’ article, “Exploring Food Insecurity among Young Mothers”, she explains the strategies used by young mothers in order to provide for their children. In preparation for her article, Stevens interviewed Amy, a 20-year-old mother who lived in a shelter with her nine-month-old son. Amy dealt first hand with food insecurity and explained it by saying, “I always get [my son] what he needs first. I always make sure I have the baby food or food that he can eat, and then I worry about food I’m gonna eat” (Stevens 168). Ultimately, the decision arrived at a difficult crossroad: if there is only enough food for one, who should eat? Amy, like numerous young mothers, was forced to make that challenging decision on a daily basis.

Young mothers and their children remain among the millions of Americans who face food insecurity. For a majority of those facing hunger, poverty forces them to find different ways of finding food in order to survive. The most common safety net in these circumstances is the food stamp program, more formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to a 2012 article, “Food Stamps vs. Poverty”, by Lizzy Ratner, 46.3 million Americans use food stamps on any given day (Ratner 14). Among those individuals is Carmen Perez-Lopez, a women who suffered a stroke following her breast cancer diagnosis. Costly treatment quickly ate up her savings. She soon had to turn to food stamps and, as Perez-Lopez explains, “they actually rescued me – they gave me food when I had none” (14). For Pere-Lopez and countless others, reliance on others proved to be a lifeline in times of struggle.

Anyone could find themselves in similar circumstances as Amy or Perez-Lopez yet throughout history, certain groups of people have been more susceptible to poverty and hunger. Despite being considered one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the United States has yet to invent an effective means of ending hunger. In fact, the United States is “top of the list of industrialized nations when it comes to the number of poor children” (Edelman and Jones 134). When analyzing the statistics behind the number of poor children in America, one may realize a startling gap between social classes along with race. Poverty, one of the major contributors to childhood hunger, is twice as likely to occur among black children as among white children (134).

This gap is seen not only in economics but also in education access and employment opportunities. In the realm of education, “white fourth graders are three to four times as likely as their black and Latino classmates to be reading at the proficient level” (135). Although this inequality may not seem as important during childhood, education can determine success in someone’s future. By receiving a poorer education, minority children potentially receive less economic opportunities later on in life. This possibly increases the risk of poverty and food insecurity in that individual’s life. Both education and future employment can factor into the possibility of being food-insecure, which means minority children exhibit at a higher risk of experiencing hunger because of the current standards in society.

Since race and numerous other factors contribute to childhood hunger levels in the United States, the US Government has been forced to implement policies throughout history to combat the issue of food insecurity. Since the 1960s, there has been an unprecedented growth in federal policy and budget designed specifically to increase spending on social welfare and research. A number of these policies and programs grew out of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration for an “unconditional war on poverty” (Van Eck and Zuccala 312). Despite these efforts, the issue remained partially unsolved in 1977 when a study “estimated that 20% of the food produced for human consumption was lost annually” (Finn 993). An estimated value of that amount of waste was $31 billion, proving that some Americans continued wasting food while others remained hungry (993). Once again in the 1980s, hunger received renewed attention from the Reagan administration due to the recession. Yet this time the attention was unwelcome as the recession ultimately led to budget cuts in food aid and public assistance programs (Libal et al. 367).

When a majority of people think of this form of governmental aid, they associate it with Food Stamps (renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Action Program, or SNAP, in 2009). In recent years, and more specifically beginning in 2007 when the economic recession hit, Food Stamps emerged as one of the “most important social benefits available to affected individuals and families” (Libal 366). SNAP remains a federal program in which eligible individuals receive exchangeable coupons for food at certain grocery stores or markets. Eligible individuals must apply for the program but when accepted, they are given the opportunity to obtain nutritious food that wasn’t available to them before. In 2009, the Obama Administration renamed and revamped SNAP, “some 32 million individuals used SNAP to meet basic food needs” (366). Despite changes in public policy, SNAP remains a constant source of basic food for those who identify as food insecure.

Hunger remains a multifaceted issue – both in its attributing factors and its solutions. Solving hunger in America continues to prove to be a difficult task as numerous programs are required to not only provide food, but also to combat the core issues that lead to food insecurity.

When it comes to the topic of childhood hunger, most Americans readily agree that some aid is required to help alleviate the issue. This agreement usually ends, however, on the question of who should offer up this support. Whereas some remain convinced that the Federal Government’s duty includes supporting its people, others maintain that relief should be left to private organizations. Either way, hunger is being combated in some way, shape, or form remains necessary. As Kathryn Libal argues, “at the forefront of this effort should be the desire to address hunger and food insecurity, not as a matter of charity, but as a fundamental human right necessary to ensure the dignity and well-being of individuals” (Libal et al. 368). Food-insecurity endures as more than a surface level issue. It is a complex issue with multiple factors and potential solutions for each unique situation. But in every situation, the individuals and families involved continue searching for resources that provide them with basic human rights.

While a majority of people agree that something must be done to aid those who experience food insecurity, a majority rarely apply it to their own lives. One issue that stays unseen by most is food waste. Globally, over one billion tons of food is discarded annually, yet “nearly a billion individuals remain hungry” (Finn 1006). This nutritious food is thrown out over minor imperfections in size, shape, or look. It obtains an ‘unsellable’ label and emerges as trash rather than edible nutrients. As a result, the food would possibly feed the hungry ends up in landfills and dumpsters.

Even if humans salvaged all wasted food, hunger would most likely remain unsolved. Due to multiple factors contributing to hunger and various solutions to each one, “having access to food alone does not stop a person from being food insecure” (Olive). Enough food to feed all may prevail as available, but if it is not accessible to those in need, it fails to serve its purpose. In the case of childhood hunger, both food and nutrition programs remain available for families who normally could not afford it. According to Christy Felling, the director of PR at Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, “the trick is cutting through barriers to allow more kids to access these programs and raising awareness of hunger” (Felling 57). Programs with limited access only benefit a limited group of those in need. In order to combat food insecurity, accessible programs that promote the awareness for the issue at hand need to be available and numerous.

Battling food insecurity has proven difficult because, despite the fact that most agree on the necessity of aid, people remain split on how to administer help to those in need. While determining how to fight the issue, people begin to overlook the factors that must be dealt with first in order to end hunger. A majority of those affected by hunger also experience some level of poverty. This poverty collides with “financial setbacks like unemployment, medical emergencies, or other crises” to leave millions of Americans struggling to “afford enough nutritious food regularly throughout the year” (Felling 57). Within the general population, each demographic has specific issues that can attribute to their risk for food insecurity.

One unique demographic that continually struggles with issues regarding hunger in the elderly. A study by Shari Goldberg and Barbara Mawn found that the “weighted percent of food insecurity for the population 60 years of age and older was 9.15%” while the “baseline for the general population was 14.6%” (Goldberg and Mawn 404). Although food insecurity among older adults proved less than that of the general population, the authors found the fact alarming. Older adults experience a higher risk of health problems due to their age which means proper nutrition is crucial. Yet older adults often work less due to retirement or ailments, leading to unemployment. This increases the risk for poverty, and thus an expand the risk of becoming hungry.

Whether it be young mothers, minority children, or the elderly, presuppositions begin to form regarding those individuals and the reasoning for their food insecurity. The common assumption remains that once people are given food, they will no longer experience hunger. Yet after looking below the surface, one begins to discover that the solution is considerably more complicated than that. Once one admits that numerous and varying factors attribute to food insecurity, then he/she may realize how each of those causes has its own unique solution. The complicated issue of hunger involves a complex and ever-changing set of solutions. Still, some believe that some of those affected by food insecurity bring it upon themselves and, in turn, don’t deserve supplemental aid.

Most people rarely point the finger at children affected by hunger but rather point it at the parents or guardians of that child. Some prefer to argue that hungry individuals choose to be poor, unemployed, or food insecure by deciding to leave their job or commit a crime that prevents them from obtaining a job. In the cases of some individuals, their past dictates whether or not they can obtain help from the State and Federal Government. For example, as of 2016 in Nebraska, individuals with drug felony charges are banned from having access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Some would argue that this is a positive ban as giving food stamps to drug dealers may enable them by encouraging them to continue in their ways because food remains steadily available. Yet Rachel Olive, the executive director of Hunger Free Heartland, explains the other side by saying that everyone “has a past that [they] would not want to have held against [them]. These are not current drug dealers. These are people who are trying to create a better life” (Olive). Past mistakes should not dictate who has access to food programs. Although some individuals take advantage of the system, a majority of those accessing aid continually work to create a better and more stable life.

Some maintain the standpoint that individuals take advantage of the current system while others believe that this same system that continues to showcase an incapability of solving hunger. One statistic these individuals point to is the fact that, “despite the work of food banks and other groups, the number of food insecure people has remained about the same at local (Nebraska) and national levels” (“Despite Efforts, Hunger Persists”). Evidence confirms the fact that the level of food insecurity (246,960 Nebraskans; including 97,080 children) has remained relatively the same in recent years.

Yet the individual case is often overlooked in these circumstances. In 2014 alone, SNAP “lifted 4.7 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, out of poverty” (Olive). For these individuals and families, SNAP continued to be a lifesaver for a certain period of time that was accessed to help improve their lives. Although these people rose out of poverty, others sunk into it for various different reasons. The individuals affected by hunger constantly change and each day a slightly different group of people need help. Although the overall number remains the relatively same, the specific individuals affected is a revolving door that continues to move.

Another argument against government programs such as SNAP regards the wellbeing of the entire nation. These individuals believe that federal aid negatively affects the economy. Yet the USDA discovered that “every $5 in SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 of economic activity” (Olive). The current system includes a number of flaws but the United States government continues to revise the program in a way blesses the individuals apart of it and those who sponsor it. Even those who know little about governmental aid have the potential to be affected by it. Although the current system remains far from perfect, it includes numerous potential benefits, both for the individual and the whole.

People tend to agree that no child should have to grow up wondering where their next meal will come from. Yet in order to prevent this, those tasked with providing for children require reliable access to food themselves. For this to happen, the discussion needs to change from one of material need to one of various underlying issues and solutions. When one examines the histories, trends, and policies regarding hunger in the United States, they begin to realize the complexity of this issue and its difficulty to combat. Yet food remains a basic human right that should not be denied to anyone, no matter what the circumstance may be. As long as hunger is ignored for the pressing issue it is, chances remain that it will continue unsolved in any community.

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