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Going hungry in America

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The number of American households who couldn't adequately sustain food for their family rose from 13 million in 2007 to 17 million households in 2008, according to a new report by the Food and Drug Admin-istration. The jump represents the highest number since the FDA started keeping track in 1995.

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The government refers to this condition as "food insecure" rather than hungry, which they define as not having enough resources throughout the year to provide food for all of their members. The new label was adopted during the Bush administration.

Outside of the Washington beltway we call that hungry.

A third of those who were deemed food insecure were unable to feed everyone for at least a few days of the month for eight out of the 12 months of the year. The FDA labeled them as very insecure.

The new lingo makes me wonder who we're paying inside the beltway to come up with ways to tie self esteem to a state of being. Their salary could probably buy a few more meals for everyone instead.

Let's go old school and try it like this. If someone doesn't eat they become hungry. If they miss an entire day of food they become very hungry. We'll take it for granted they feel badly about the situation but we'll keep our focus on the need for food. Perhaps someone at one of the food pantries will give them the needed pat on the back.

The surveys also show that adults in the household went without more often and did their best to shield any children from missing a meal. However, there were still 506,000 children, up from 323,000 in 2007, who didn't always have enough to eat despite government programs. Local food banks, which are often the very last safety net for families, have been reporting a decrease in donations since the beginning of the recession and have less to feed an increased number of families seeking help.

Many of the newly hungry are doing their best to hide the reduced status from their neighbors or friends. We haven't come far enough from our old way of thinking that how we measure up as human beings depends more on how we look than on how we treat each other.

It is difficult for those who in the past have been able to not only feed their families but make regular mortgage payments to suddenly find themselves struggling for the most basic of needs. All across America, though there are now families who are making decisions about where to put the last dollars. The list is long and includes things like prescription medicine, fuel for the car, keeping a roof over everyone's head and food.

The answer some families come up with is to get just enough of each category to stay afloat, which means that your neighbor may be hungry but pride is keeping him from saying anything.

Americans by nature want to be of service to someone who is in need. When there is a disaster we turn out in droves to help put things back to a semblance of normal. We understand that especially during the Great Recession there are going to be even more valleys than hills.

It's not a mark of failure to ask for help. Sometimes it's a good mark of character to be able to accept as well as to be able to give.

An ability to be independent when taken too far becomes a character defect and can cause us to isolate from one another when what we really need is to reach out and take a chance that help will be provided and without judgment.

Look for solutions as a neighborhood and speak up about your limitations or your needs. See if even just one block can't come together and operate as a co-op during these unusual times to make sure that no one goes without a decent meal.

It's time we dropped the notion that came out of the 1970s when air conditioning became commonplace that the goal is to know as little as possible about our neighbors. Let's try adopting the idea that all of life is about progress and never perfection. Then we can admit that sometimes we don't know what we're doing, it isn't going as planned and we could use a little help. Imagine the example we'll be setting for the generations to come.

Martha Randolph Carr's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.

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