January 30 2012

The Myth of Hunger

Julie Gunlock

Warren Kozak has a must-read article in today’s Wall Street Journal

Discussing hunger in America, Kozak makes the point that despite the dramatic rhetoric coming from the ubiquitous anti-hunger groups, according to the Census Bureau, 96 percent of the parents said their children were never hungry and 82 percent of poor adults said they were never hungry at any time in 2009 due to a lack of food or money.

I’ve written about this issue as well (here and here) and came to the same conclusions after reviewing the government’s own statistics on hunger.  Despite the discourse to the contrary (including the government’s own messaging on the subject) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own report on hunger, 94.3 percent of Americans are well-fed.  So, from where do these grim images and talk of starvation come? 

After digging around a little in the USDA’s report, one realizes America’s hunger problem is more the result of semantics.  You see, the USDA never actually uses the words “starvation” or “hunger.”  Instead they use the much harder to nail down term “food insecure.”

USDA defines “food insecurity” as one of two situations: low food security, which is “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet with little or no indication of reduced food intake;” and very low food security, or “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” According to the most recent report, 17.4 million households (50.2 million people) fit into one of these categories (the majority of which—10.6 million—fitting into “low” security).

It’s important for Americans to realize that instead of hunger, these families have the much less dramatic problem of not having a wide variety of food choices; they might have some disruption in their eating patterns and at times, they might have to reduce their food consumption.  While unpleasant, to be sure, this is not starvation. And according to the Census, it isn’t even hunger

Americans also need to put this country’s food situation into some perspective.  Suffering does exist in the world and humans do indeed suffer from hunger.  But luckily, we live in a country relatively free of true starvation.  According to the United Nations, 98 percent of undernourished people live in developing nations. Two-thirds live in only seven countries — Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

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