The Politics of ‘Food Insecurity’

Hungry children are less likely to develop properly and they are far less likely to be able to pay attention and focus on educational pursuits. So, given how pervasive hunger is for children in this nation, doesn’t it seem all the more incredible that children would be forced to throw out school lunches because of an inability to pay?

In an eye-opening recent story it was reported that children in a Massachusetts school were denied lunch because they couldn’t afford to pay for it. Some may say that’s fair, or they may ask ‘When and where would it stop?’ if those children were allowed to have at no charge the same meal for which others had to pay. That’s a debate-worthy issue that can lead to questions about where we stand as a society — but what made the incident worthy of an eye-roll and head-shake was that those children were forced to discard the lunches that had been served to them.

Regardless of the outcome in that school district, it brings up the important issue of ‘food insecurity,’ the term used discuss the large and ongoing problem of hunger in the United States. Food insecurity should be discussed as part of the larger issues of minimum wage, living wages and poverty.

Food InsecurityAccording to the National Academies Press, “the broad conceptual definitions of food security and insecurity developed by the expert panel convened in 1989 by the Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO) have served as the basis for the standardized operational definitions used for estimating food security in the United States. Food security according to the LSRO definition means access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It includes at a minimum (a) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods and (b) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g., without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). Food insecurity exists whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain.

Hunger in America, according to FeedAmerica.org, exists for over 50 million people. That is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population – including more than 1 in 5 children. Using the most recent data:

  • In 2011, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.6 percent compared to 12.2percent.
  • In 2011, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.6 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.8 percent) or single men (24.9 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (25.1 percent) and Hispanic households (26.2 percent).
  • In 2011, 8.8 percent of seniors living alone (1 million households) were food insecure.
  • Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 5 percent in Steele County, ND to a high of 37 percent in Holmes County, MS.

What does it say about our nation’s priorities? Given Tennessee State Senator Stacy Campfield’s bill, supported by the TN House Republicans (below) to take food assistance away from poor children by latching welfare benefits to students’ report cards, perhaps we already know the answer. When our elected officials are willing to place the burden on a child about whether his or her whole family eats, we already know that the politics matters far more than whether or not children are left behind.

Shame on them.

Voting against food security