Re: The Politics of Hunger
Religion & Liberty Online

Re: The Politics of Hunger

Jordan’s post on hunger raises a timely question, on a day when First Lady Michelle Obama was on hand to watch the president sign the $4.5 billion “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” at a Washington elementary school. Despite the media coverage and White House spin that points to this in part as a hunger fighting piece of legislation, the measure is really about obesity. Because in America, the real problem with food is superabundance and waste, not scarcity and hunger.

As Bloomberg noted today:

Almost 20 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds were considered obese in 2007-2008, according to a study by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese children are more likely to have health issues like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure according to the CDC.

A study published last year estimated the cost of treating obesity-related ailments in 2008 at $147 billion. The study, noted the Washington Post, “compared medical costs for normal-weight people to those for obese people, suggests that curbing the obesity epidemic is key not only to ensuring a healthier future for Americans, but also to reining in health costs.”

The Centers for Disease Control helpfully suggests that schools should be located “within walking distance of students’ homes and making it easier for people to get access to healthful foods.” Of course, these tips largely will be ignored, as will most other nanny state directives on eating healthy diets and exercising that have been around for decades. Walking to school? That’s what minivans are for.

Now, you can argue that poor people are consuming too much bad food. You can argue that government farm subsidies foster production of the wrong kinds of food. All that is debatable and subject to honest differences of opinions as to causes and solutions. What doesn’t seem obvious is that millions of Americans are going hungry. This is what we get constantly from the religious left and the U.S. hunger lobby, which sees expansive government welfare programs as the inevitable answer.

“Almost 50 million Americans wonder where their next meal is coming from,” intones the statement from Faithful Americans for Fiscal Strength, in an effort to head off the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Really? Fifty million people wandering the streets of America, or shivering in their tar paper shacks, not sure where their next meal is coming from? One in six Americans? The statement was signed by Jim Wallis, that paragon of civil discourse and bipartisanship. He said this on the Huffington Post shortly after the president announced his compromise with Republicans:

Obama could have focused the higher tax rates on the very rich and protected those more in the middle who are really creating jobs. But now, most of the people who will be keeping their tax cuts are not job creators. After all, how many jobs will the Goldman Sachs traders create, or the hedge fund gamblers, or the celebrities who dominate our lives? Almost none. On the contrary, they have been the “job destroyers,” having wrecked this economy and the lives of so many people.

Let’s be clear here. At the root of the crisis was just a handful of banks — not the banking industry, not business in general, but a handful of very rich people taking big risks. They are already getting richer because of our taxpayer bailout, and now we’re giving them more tax breaks and estate tax bonanzas. There is socialism in America, but it’s only for the rich. Risk has been socialized for some of the very richest people in the country, and then, the “free market” pain is distributed to all the rest.

That sounds positively hateful to me. I guess those who believe in the power of the free market to raise living standards for all and put unheard of quantities of food on the table are simply to be demonized — when you’re not advocating civility and bipartisanship.

Mark Tooley, president of The Institute on Religion & Democracy, perfectly summed up the problem with Wallis’ rant:

In a choice between higher taxes and President Obama, the Evangelical Left revealingly chose higher taxes. Seemingly, for Wallis and many on the Evangelical and Religious Left, any concession to the middle is morally outrageous, any detour from a rigid politically liberal orthodoxy unacceptable to the Gospel.

Wallis keeps dressing up his pro-Big Government, pro-high tax politics as the supposed fruit of the Gospel. Expanding the size and power of government is an inflexible doctrine for him and the Religious Left. They might reconsider whether higher taxes and more government really help the poor whose plight they always cite. And they might reexamine whether the Scriptures really provide the detailed political and economic guidance they routinely claim.

Here’s the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector on poverty and nutrition:

It is often believed that a lack of financial resources forces poor people to eat low-quality diets that are deficient in nutriments and high in fat. However, survey data show that nutriment density (amount of vitamins, minerals, and protein per kilocalorie of food) does not vary by income class. Nor do the poor consume higher-fat diets than do the middle class; the percentage of persons with high fat intake (as a share of total calories) is virtually the same for low-income and upper-middle-income persons. Over-consumption of calories in general, however, is a major problem among the poor, as it is within the general U.S. population.

Again, too much “intake” and too much waste. Here’s an appalling bit of description that reveals just how wasteful Americans are with the abundant supplies of food they are blessed with:

According to a recent study by a researcher at the University of Arizona, Americans throw away approximately 40-50 percent of their food (i.e., total, system-wide “food loss”). Within that figure, retailers and restaurants throw away 35 million tons a year, valued at $30 billion. Households are responsible for throwing away approximately $43 billion worth of food (not including plate scrapings, garbage disposal waste, or composting). That comes out to about 14 percent of what they buy, or 1.28 pounds of food per household per day. Vegetables are 27 percent of food trash, while packaged foods in their original containers and with valid expiration dates are 14 percent.

Here are a few suggestions for solving the problem of hunger in America:

— If your neighbor is hungry, feed him.
— Buy only what you know you will consume.
— Encourage local restaurants and markets to participate in “gleaners” type programs for food banks.
— Contribute to your church’s food pantry. If your faith community doesn’t have one, help start one.

Other suggestions?

John Couretas

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.