The History of Hunger
The modern face of hunger
1 out of 7 Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable and nutritious food (USDA). Even families with one person working full time struggle to obtain a steady amount of healthy food. This is true for 85% of families facing food insecurity (APA). With roughly 42 million people lacking enough food, the U.S. ranks dead last in food security among developed nations (USDA).
the obesity-Hunger paradox
The importance of access to healthy nutritious foods is demonstrated by the obesity paradox. The obesity paradox refers to the fact that kids can be food insecure and obese at the same time (CT). Many children suffer from an unsteady supply of foods and unfortunately the food they do receive is high in calories and nutritionally empty. The roots of this paradox stem from government policies dating back to the 1930s (UHS).
Following The Great Depression, President Roosevelt created a subsidies program to help regulate agricultural supply and demand (UHS). To ensure a sufficient food supply for the country, the government supplied financial subsidies for crops like corn, wheat, and soy. Subsidies continued to be distributed long after The Great Depression.
Although subsidies were intended to make sure farmers could make a living wage, they resulted in a crop surplus. Under the Johnson Administration, excess crops were channeled to government assistance programs like food stamps or free school lunches. In doing so, the subsidies program gained massive support, especially in urban areas. In 1973, President Nixon passed a farm bill to start subsidizing crops by the bushel. While the bill lowered food costs for the consumer, it also resulted in the consolidation of many farms (UHS). Deforestation increased and farming practices increased the use of fertilizer and pesticides in order to maximize output. Today there are 63% fewer small farms and the consequences to our environment and food quality are endless (UHS).
A surplus of cash crops like wheat, corn and soy, resulted in these ingredients being added to more food products. Subsidies also made these food products less expensive than un-subsidized fruits or vegetables. From 1995 to 2010, 170 billion dollars in government subsidies has supported production of processed foods; NOT nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables (NYT).
After the economic turmoil of the 1980s resulted in cuts to federal assistance programs, food banks and soup kitchens began popping up (CFC). Unfortunately, 1 in 7 people still depend on hunger relief services. Due to cost, processed and nutritionally empty foods wind up in the food banks and soup kitchens.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 200,000 African American farmers owned a combined 15 million acres of land. By 1992, 20,000 black farmers owned a combined 2.3 million acres of land (Grio). Citing decades of denied loans or prohibited access to disaster relief funds, African American and other minority farmers brought suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination. The USDA has slowly been making reparations to minority and female farmers (Grist).
While the history of hunger in the U.S. is complex, there is so much hope for a better future. Farmer Foodshare alone has helped over 400,000 people receive farm-fresh produce for nutritious meals. You can help us increase that number!