2.12.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: How Hungry is America, Chapter 7

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 7:
Dickens Revisited - Life in the New Gilded Age

Summary:

Based on Ch. 7 figures
"Inequality of wealth is one of the defining features of our age."  Further, outdated methods of calculating what wage defines "poverty" prevent many economically disadvantaged people from accessing aid.  It's worth noting that less than 20% of those who do fit within poverty's definition and do not work are able-bodied, healthy, and of working age.

Everyone who earns the minimum wage, even working a full 40 hours per week, lands below the already too low poverty line.  Wages stay stagnant even as living costs rise.  Some advocate for a "housing wage," one that would vary depending on the average housing costs in an area.  Being poor can actually make life more expensive - needing to pay rent weekly rather than monthly or being unable to purchase or store bulk food and home items, for instance.  Those with more capital can spend less on their needs.  The poor are also most likely to fall prey to payday loans and other such schemes.

While public welfare is debated, corporate welfare seems to be handed over by the fistful to the "job creators."  The businesses receiving tax breaks and other incentives in order to enable much-needed job creation don't seem to be able to accomplish it, though.  Campaign contributions ensure that politicians who support these practices continue to be elected and hold their offices.

The poor these days have only two options: work ever-harder just to keep their heads above water, or drown in the ever-rising tide.  "If we don't restore the hope that people can once again move ahead because of their hard work and talents, we are all in serious trouble."

Discussion:

The crux of this chapter seems to be that if the ultra-rich who control our country were willing to pay themselves a bit less, they really could afford to pay us everyday folk more.  Then we'd be able to feed ourselves decent food and live in safe homes without having such dependence on federal aid.  And yet, the rich don't want to be any less rich, even when it would only mean giving up another helicopter.  Even when it would mean literally saving lives.

Yes indeed - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle is stuck in the mud - because it is the rich who hold political power to make sure that the rich keep getting richer at everyone else's expense.  (Of course, the Heritage Foundation would like to remind us that if you have air conditioning and a TV, you can't possibly be "poor."  Some "poor" people even have the audacity to own cars!)


But what's it got to do with hunger?  This chapter seems a bit of a diversion from the topic at hand - that being hunger.  Of course people with less money are more prone to hunger.  But the chapter does a poor job of tying the ideas together.  So let's do some tying, shall we?


Food insecurity of those living in poverty,
created by ME with USDA numbers
Yes, if people have more money, they are less likely to go hungry.  Or more to the point, those who are poor are almost three times more likely also hungry: per the USDA, a bit over 40% of households living below the poverty line are also food insecure.  (Honestly I thought it would be a good bit higher, but food stamps and other such programs are helping these families a good deal.)  That's a significantly higher percentage than of food insecurity seen nationwide, which hovers around 15%.

It is ironic, and and outright disgrace frankly, that many who work in the food industry remain food insecure.  Farmers are starving.  Farmers!  People who literally grow food!  Are starving!  What better demonstration is there that our food system is severely dysfunctional?

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