Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Food Security in America: a comment on Hullabaloo

There is a lot of discussion in the blogosphere around this NYT article and the response to it from the right: Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High which includes this response from Robert Rectum, er Rector at Heritage
“Very few of these people are hungry,” said Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind of food they buy. That is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”
Which prompted well deserved outrage. But I tried to frame it a little differently over at Digby with the following and thought I would share it here.

There is a big difference between being hungry and being mal-nourished. Many third world people would likely shake their heads at the idea that anyone can starve in America, after all even the most meagre food stamp allocation would allow a family to buy enough corn meal and cooking oil to sustain life with maybe some potatoes and other root crops thrown in. Or alternately you could buy a fifty pound bag of rice. Or a bushel of oatmeal and some bacon trimmings. Whatever your heritage chances are that you have ancestors that lived day in and day out on that or less.

But we are not 21st century Sudan, 20th century China, 19th century Ireland, 17th century Scotland, there is no reason why Americans should not have access to balanced nutritional meals anymore than there is reason to deny them a change of clothes or a daily bath just because after all your great-great grandfather didn't have indoor plumbing.

I bring this up because it is a common rhetorical move from the right to argue that poor people in America are not really poor because they are fat, or have a TV, or a cell-phone. Or because in the end if they have a heart attack they will be admitted to the ER: "You can't be poor, look at how big your kids got eating government cheese".

I don't quite know how to counteract this move, there is nothing in the Declaration of Independence that promises 'life, liberty and the pursuit of a pizza and a side salad' but kids have a sense of injustice that goes beyond simple hunger pangs.

I wrote about this last Christmas Eve with a post called 'Why Does Santa Hate Poor Kids'
Because most every year every kid in poverty learns a hard lesson, rich kids get lavish gifts from Santa and dollar bills from the Tooth Fairy and big Easter Baskets from the Easter Bunny, while poor kids get squat. Which is a pretty fine way to socialize kids into just accepting their proper role in society.

So I don't know how much actual biologic hunger there is in this country, but people and especially children deserve something better than simple subsistence, that you can live on rice and beans doesn't mean that you should when all around you are living in relative lavishness. Did Charlie of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" REALLY need that chocolate bar? Well yes he did and not just because his stomach was growling.


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