At the same time, the government also classifies 38 million people as “food insecure, which refers to not having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life.
A big part of food insecurity relates to the uncertainties of daily life. People go hungry because of unexpected events, such as paying for an emergency visit to the hospital, a car repair, or the loss of a job. So you can be just above the poverty line, and any one of those circumstances can push you over the edge.
When a family is living that close to the edge, the bottom line is that cuts will be made in their food budgets. If you don’t have a credit card, then you have to pay cash for food. If you don’t have the cash in hand, then you don’t buy food that day.
Even those who get three meals a day may be malnourished. Americans increasingly eat cheap, sugary foods whose production benefits government subsidies for the corn, soy and dairy industries. As the New York Times reported, the USDA promotes better eating habits while also working with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese. Something feels wrong here…
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one in four American children – close to 17 million – live in food-insecure homes. A kid who is hungry cannot learn. A kid who can’t learn drops out of school. A kid without an education can’t get a job and help America compete in a global economy. A kid without a job may turn to crime and drugs, get arrested and cost taxpayers $40,000 a year to sit in prison.
According to the Feeding America website, the person most likely to be hungry is a single, working mother. Federal programs ensure that low-income children can get free meals at school, but their mothers – many of whom are single and work low-paying jobs in the service sector – often have to make tough choices between food, rent, gas for the car, health care or new shoes for their kids. Millions of American women who face this predicament will feed their children and go without meals themselves.
My mother and I were on food stamps throughout my childhood, over 20 years ago. She was a single mom and worked as a waitress. I grew up in an inner city housing project and had a supermarket within walking distance, so we were fortunate. I remember getting government cheese, this huge block of neon orange stuff that never melted, no matter how long you cooked it. My mother was vegetarian so we didn’t have meat in the house. Unfortunately, because of food stamps, we also didn’t have any fresh veggies either. I honestly didn’t know that many of the things I ate, like corn and peas, could be bought fresh; I thought everyone ate them from a can and that was the only way they came. When I moved to California, I was amazed at the amount of fruits and vegetables I had never seen before. It’s hard to believe now, but I didn’t know what avocados or artichokes were. They are now two of my favorite foods. My mom wasn’t very adventurous when it came to fresh food- but she did the best she could with what she had!