Red Herrings and Hunger  

By Sasha Abramsky | Posted Wednesday December 14, 2011

Photo for story - Red Herrings and Hunger

Earlier this week, political leaders in Washington, D.C., launched a plan to ban millionaires from accessing food stamps. It sounded good, as if those in charge of steering the ship of state were finally tackling the problem of the rich and powerful abusing government programs. The only problem? Millionaires aren’t eligible for federal food assistance programs. To be eligible for this, you have to be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line.

Instead of tokenistic, sound-bite politics around hunger, and federal attempts to end hunger in America, how about a more honest conversation about poverty, and food access? It’s a huge problem, and getting steadily worse.

Why are so many Americans now so poor that they avoid outright hunger only by enrolling in food stamps? Forty seven million Americans now use the program, and many millions more are poor enough to qualify, but for many reasons haven’t signed on. Why, in a state like California, do only half of eligible residents actually receive this assistance? Why are millions of people, including not only the unemployed but also, increasingly, the working poor and elderly, now having to stand in line at food banks and pantries for scraps of charity food, leading many pantries to run out of food?

Earlier this week, I met a seventy one year old lady in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, who arrived at a pantry at 7a.m., despite it not opening until 11, so that she would be close enough to the front of the line to have a chance at getting some of the meat being given away. A month earlier, I interviewed Vicenta Delgada, an elderly lady in North Philadelphia, suffering from brain cancer, who also sat in line for hours each week waiting for her food. She sat on the street, her walker in front of her, shivering in the morning cold, scared that if she left the line she would lose her week’s supply of eatables.

Why, in the most agriculturally productive country on earth, are there “food deserts,” where healthy, nutritional, fresh produce, is simply unavailable for purchase? Why do we have a food distribution system that makes deeply unhealthy fast and junk food seem the cheaper, better option than fresh produce for millions of low-income Americans?

Given the size of America’s hunger problem, it’s insulting to indulge in sound-bite politics about Food Stamp millionaires. There are, quite simply, bigger issues in play here.

Tags: hunger
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