As of today, ...one in eight Americans is still food-insecure. One in six American children do not always know when their next meal will be or where that meal will come from. Recently, President Biden’s administration has also come up with a plan to end hunger in America by 2030. Much of that is exactly what hunger groups wanted to do nearly two decades ago...
By Sharman Apt Russell
Sharman Apt Russell has published some dozen books translated into nine languages. Her Diary of a Citizen Scientist won the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Natural History Writing and her Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005) was written with the help of a Rockefeller Fellowship. Her Within Our Grasp: Childhood Malnutrition Worldwide and the Revolution Taking Place to End It (Pantheon Books, 2021) highlights the alignment of environmental and humanitarian goals. Sharman lives in the magical realism of the American Southwest. She teaches in the MFA program of Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a professor emeritus at Western New Mexico University in Silver City. For more information, go to www.sharmanaptrussell.com
Déjà Vu: Within Our Grasp
In 2004, I was writing a book about the science of hunger, how our bodies respond to both voluntary fasting and involuntary malnutrition and starvation. I talked to a lot of people about this subject. The coalition National Anti-Hunger Organizations (NAHO) had just come up with a blueprint to end hunger in America, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and as they were the first to admit—this wasn’t rocket science. “The solution to hunger in America is not a secret,” the NAHO said. “We have both the knowledge and the tools.”
Eighteen years later, one in eight Americans is still food-insecure. One in six American children do not always know when their next meal will be or where that meal will come from.
Recently, President Biden’s administration has also come up with a plan to end hunger in America by 2030. Much of that is exactly what hunger groups wanted to do nearly two decades ago.
The first step is to expand existing programs. Reach out to the people who are eligible for food assistance but do not receive it because the process of applying is so difficult and humiliating. Increase the benefits of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). Extend healthy school meals into the summers and holidays. Provide more nutritious healthy food to food banks and food pantries. Focus on supporting vulnerable groups such as seniors, children, and immigrants.
The second step is to reduce poverty. Return the child tax credit used in the pandemic, which was shown to reduce child poverty by almost half. Raise the minimum wage. Lower health care costs. Help provide quality child care and safe, affordable housing.
It’s not rocket science.
At the same time, the 2022 plan does have some remarkable differences from what was proposed in 2004.
When I was writing about malnutrition then, statistics from the World Health Organization did not include the problem of overnutrition. Today, being overweight or obese is considered a form of malnutrition which can result in serious chronic disease. Some 42 percent of adults in America are obese. Almost 20 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese. What does this mean for their future? We don’t really know. America has never had so many obese children.
Obesity, of course, is also connected to poverty. When people do not know when their next meal will be, they may tend to overcompensate or develop unhealthy eating habits. When people live in food deserts, with access mainly to highly processed and inexpensive fast food, they may tend to gain weight. When city parks and green spaces are unsafe or far away, healthy daily exercise like walking and bicycling is hard to develop as a routine.
President Biden’s plan to end hunger is sensitive to the new realities of malnutrition and includes an emphasis on making nutritious food more available in poor communities and creating more opportunities for physical recreation.
The plan also welcomes the crucial role of business in America, with a long list of companies and organizations that have pledged real money—some eight billion dollars—in the effort to provide better access to better food. That list includes Albertsons, Door Dash, Instacart, Walgreens, Chobani, Tyson Foods, Google, Sysco, Warner Brothers, The Food Industry Association, The National Grocers Association, and National Restaurant Association. Their programs will range from nutrition labeling and nutrition counseling to financing healthier school breakfasts and lunches.
These efforts may be particularly important in a time when government in America becomes more partisan and paralyzed.
It’s not rocket science. We know what to do. And we have the resources.
I hope it doesn’t take another twenty years.
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