2.22.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: How Hungry is America, Chapter 11

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

How Hungry is America, Chapter 11: How Media Ignores Hunger
(Except During Holidays and Hurricanes)

Summary:

Network news does not, generally cover issues of hunger.  Neither is it covered by other mainstream media outlets.  This may be because makers of "the news," being moneymaking entities, tend to pander to their advertisers - which is to say, to the rich.  Media employees also tend to live far above the means of the working poor.  It's unsurprising, then, that an issue of poverty like hunger is ignored.

Generally, the press only mentions hunger during the holidays or in response to a crisis.  Even when it does so, it tends to highlight charity efforts and eschew mention of government accountability.  Celebrities, politicians, and food companies earn great media praise for charitable donations to hunger efforts, despite the tiny fraction of available funds those donations tend to represent.

In one gleaming moment of 1968, CBS bucked the trend by broadcasting a long and painful piece of investigative journalism about hunger in America (called, um, Hunger in America).  The federal government was outraged, and Secy. of Agriculture Orville Freeman demanded equal time on the network to refute the allegations made regarding federal failures.  CBS president replied in writing, calling hunger "a critical shameful national problem" and essentially telling the U.S. government NO.  "The truth that a network president would never broadcast such a show today - nor defend itself against self-serving attacks in such a steadfast way - is exactly what's wrong with modern-day media."

Discussion:

A search on the Nola.com web site for the word "hunger" did pull up a few articles about hunger issues in New Orleans: one about a study showing high rates of hunger in Louisiana, another about a charter school in Gentilly providing free dinners to its students, and a third about a church group's charity walk intended to "end hunger."  There were a handful of others mentioning the issue of hunger.  These though were outnumbered approximately 10 to 1 by stories about The Hunger Games - which I admit are really great movies.  Somehow, though, I think hunger in our own community is a smidge more important than the struggles of Katniss Everdeen.

A similar search for "food insecurity" yields two (2) relevant results in the past year: an article about new nonprofit efforts to help people get food and an article praising Sean Payton of the Saints for donating to a summer feeding program for students.

All of these things are great, but it sure does seem like we only talk about hunger when non-poor, non-hungry people draw attention to it.  Even in the city of New Orleans, where 39% of children live in poverty.  What gives?  Is the media so owned?  Is it so unprofitable to talk about unpopular subjects that make people feel guilty?  Whattaya say, Katniss?

Yes, in 1968, CBS was brave enough (or not yet owned enough) to talk about hunger in a special called Hunger in America.  And thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can watch it!

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