Hungry for solutions"To admit the existence of hunger in America is to confess that we have failed in meeting the most sensitive and painful of human needs. To admit the existence of widespread hunger is to cast doubt on the efficacy of our whole system." -George McGovern
Note: This entry turned into quite a bit more than I'd originally planned. Sometimes, you just have to follow the story where it takes you.
The New Year is a time when people often take stock of their lives and how to make it better. So it seems appropriate that it also be a time when citizen take stock of their country and how to make it better.
Much of politics today focuses on the symbolic, especially the so-called culture war (and I am hardly immune from falling into that trap at times). For example, whether gays can get their union recognized by the state is largely irrelevant to most people's everyday lives, except gay couples themselves. It certainly won't harm anybody.
But the 'issue' makes for a great way to rouse fury of ordinary people looking for an outlet for their anger. And since ordinary people feel they have little control over the forces that really affect their lives, they direct their venom against someone lower down the political food chain. It's the kick-your-dog syndrome.
As this Reuters piece points out, millions of Americans have far more pressing concerns. Some 1.2 million New York city residents, nearly 15 percent of the city's population, face a regular choice between food and housing.
And it's not unique to New York. According to federal government numbers, almost 12* percent of all Americans (35 million people) struggled with hunger during 2005.
(*-That number may actually be 15.4 percent of all Americans, of 46 million people, thanks to a quiet bureaucratic re-definition of the word that erased the label, if not the actual fact of, hunger from 11 million people.)
The Food Bank of New York City distributes an average of over 89 tons of food EVERY DAY to community groups and other organizations. That's 65 million pounds of charity food a year for New York City alone.
And as the article pointed out, it's not just the unemployed, 'bums,' 'welfare queens' and drug users that are unable to buy their own food. The anti-hunger organization America's Second Harvest (A2H) did a study of those 24 million people who received its help. It noted that:
-36.4 percent were children
-10 percent were elderly
-36 percent of households helped had at least one employed adult
-32 percent had incomes ABOVE the federal poverty line
And it wasn't just New York city residents who had to choose between food and other necessities. A2H found that of its nationwide recipients:
-42 percent had to choose between food and heat or other utilities
-35 percent had to choose between food and rent or mortgage
-32 percent had to choose between food and medical care
Even those who already receive government benefits still suffer from food insecurity. A2H found that of its nationwide recipient households:
-35 percent received food stamps and still needed further help
-51 percent received WIC benefits and still needed further help
-62 percent with school age children participated in the school lunch program and still needed further help
The Food Bank's president fumed, "I would rather be giving my expertise to try and solve the hunger issue in a third world country, where they have no food. Here we have the food."
Somehow, I don't think whether Seattle airport has a Christmas tree is of much concern to the tens of millions of Americans who are simply worried about where there next meal will come from.
How to help:
-The Hunger Site
-America's Second Harvest
-World Food Day USA
-Find your local soup kitchen