Obesity is a national epidemic and deservedly gets a ton of attention from politicians, policymakers and the press. But the focus on fat has covered up another very real crisis: Hunger in America.
Between the record numbers of Americans on Food Stamps (nearly 47 million in 2012) and another 2-3 million who don’t qualify ($29,000 of income for a family of 4) or don’t collect, “food insecurity” affects about 50 million Americans, according to journalist and author Peter Pringle.
In A Place at the Table, Pringle collected and edited a series of essays about hunger in America, including the noted food blogger Marion Nestle, author of “Why Calories Count” and “Food Politics” among others.
In the accompanying video, Pringle and Nestle joined me to discuss the book (there’s also a forthcoming documentary of the same name) and why hunger is so prevalent in the world’s fattest nation.
“What’s interesting is the same people who are hungry are [often] also obese,” Nestle notes. “It’s one of the great anomalies of our food situation. The fact is, if you don’t have much money you’re going to buy food with as much calories as you can possibly take in.”
The cheapest food is often “junk food" and Americans who consume it are fat and malnourished at the same time.
“The ones you see on lines outside of soup kitchens -- they don’t look as though they’re hungry most of the time,” Pringle notes. “They don’t have the faces of starving people in Africa.”
But, Pringle notes, the lines at soup kitchens and food pantries get “much longer” the third week of the month, because Food Stamps typically don’t provide enough money to buy groceries to last an entire month.
Nestle argues that the Food Stamps program – now officially The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – was never designed to “take care of everybody’s food needs for the entire month.”
While she has many opinions about SNAP, the Farm Bill and America’s food policies in general, Nestle says the root cause of the hunger crisis is really the jobs crisis.
“We need jobs that pay a decent wage so people can afford to buy their own food,” she says. “We need to restructure the economy in order to take care of this problem and not leave it to private charities to try to fill what is a very large gap.”
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