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Food in America: An Entitlement?

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America has sold itself as a loving and giving nation. We feed and rescue the less fortunate on a global status. Our television broadcasts shows of starving children. The malnutritioned children, with swollen bellies, cry out in filthy, bug ridden, exploitation. Our tears fall. We dig deep in our pockets, to send whatever we can, to make ourselves feel better. We shake our heads in pity at life in third world nations. All the while, we don’t realize that starvation in our own country is growing. It isn’t aired, there are no global donations, no adopt an American child, picture enclosed, programs for our hungry and homeless. Yet, as we send donations to rescue the less fortunate in other countries, we try to cut funding for our own, as we scream, Get a job!

So many Americans believe there is no reason for American starvation. The starving Americans are at fault and they need to work. That’s the solution. People refuse to look at the total picture, and when the evidence is put in their face, they close their eyes and turn their heads while uttering: It’s because of Obama.

Somewhere between breaking collective bargaining and a desperate economy, we have come to believe that a $10 an hour job is sufficient. (A $10 an hour job falls $1 below the national poverty line.) The mindset is gratuity, period. We defend the fifty year high of corporate profits, and bash the president for the equally high unemployment rate.

Doesn’t the reality that 46,405,204 Americans are collecting food stamps convincingly paint the picture of poverty in our nation? For some, the visual is overweight, lazy, black, Hispanic, Arabic, drug addicted, people who are baby machines, kicking out children to earn money on the system. Others believe massive fraud is taking place; people aren’t entitled, they are raping the system, cheating. These things are simply untrue. The fraud rate is down from 56 percent to 1 percent. That’s statistically insignificant. Meanwhile, one in five people struggles with a shortage of food. One in three is eligible for food assistance, but doesn’t apply, probably out of  false pride, shame.

Even many of our best educated, struggling to repay crippling student loans, find themselves below the poverty line: there are 293,209 people with Master’s degrees and 33,655 PhDs dependent on food stamps! We have underemployed people trying to support their families on minimum wage, burdened with paying child care, medical care, and transportation costs. Every single mother struggles; many are earning minimum wage or less. Even if they are lucky enough to receive child support, still they can’t afford to buy food for their children. They count their saved milk, bread, and egg money to put in their gas tanks to make it to their low-paying jobs. These are not lazy people who can be put in a color class. They can’t be put in a class of white/black/Arab/ or Hispanic. The fact is they are Americans who would starve without the food assistance program, no matter how hard they try to work their way out of the hole they have been pushed into.

Although there aren’t any numbers I can point to to prove it, I think it’s a safe bet that the majority of food stamp recipients would gladly take a job that would give them the ability to feed their children and handle all of their other living expenses without having to deal with DPS. We are Americans; we don’t want to admit we have to use the system. We hang our heads in shame, blaming ourselves for our personal failures, don’t we? There is no shame to be had. We are loving people. We will care for our children at any and all costs to ourselves. That’s what we do as parents.

About Pam Messingham

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    The simple fact is that blaming those on welfare for their own situation and claiming that they abuse it is a lot easier than asking hard questions like:

    1. Why do so many people use the welfare system?
    2. What can be done so that fewer people need welfare services in the future?

  • Clav

    Interesting questions, Doc.

    How would you answer them?

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    The answer to the first question is straightforward enough, Clav: people use the welfare system because they cannot cover basic living expenses out of their own resources.

    The second is a lot more complex but I do have professional experience in ways of addressing it. In brief, social programs need to be designed to enable, educate and encourage those who use them to better their situations and get them into a position of autonomy where they no longer need the services.

    Many are structured in such a way, but there’s always room for improvement.

  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    The family farm has been dwindling for years. We need to get back to it. In addition, we need to encourage Victory Gardens; such as, the program under President Truman. Unless the public becomes involved in growing food, distribution and outreach will continue to be problems.

    Artificial shortages will be created by the conglomerates. Read the book “Food First” by Lappe’. He shows how to spread the food technology throughout the world. In dry areas, we should encourage desalination plants fueled by solar energy.

  • http://www.passionoftruth.blogspot.com Pam Messingham

    #3 Dread…the system isn’t the problem. The system is designed to enable, but as I was trying to prove, education isn’t producing system free jobs, even college education. It isn’t the system that needs the improvement, it’s the job creators. Our hourly wage today is lower than it was in the 70′s with a 2012 cost of living. The problem is with the wage…not the system. The manufacturing industry provided many jobs that boosted the economy and enabled freedom from the system…but we gave those away in that brainstorm idea of the free market economy.

  • Igor

    The inexorable march of increasing productivity requires that we allocate less available human work among more workers. We need a shorter work week.

    The fool Maresca accidentally revealed that when he advocated return to farms, which are an excellent example of the inexorable nature of increased mechanisation. After WW2 it became obvious to farmers that this was the nature of farm mechanisation, and so a farmer couldn’t support his own children on the product of his farm. In fact, it would take 2 farms to support one family, so not only did all extra children have to move out to the cities, but two farm families would have to combine forces under a family of son/daughter to double output per family. Thus, the enormous migration of kids off the farms and to the cities in the 50s.

    Of course, the ignorant city kids who never swamped out a cow barn or disced a cornfield or threshed wheat or installed a submersible well pump or welded a harrow or …, etc., never learned that and lived in a fog of theorizing.

    That’s not you, is it?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Igor –

    I have to agree with your #6 – we could not feed ourselves (much less be the world’s largest exporter of grain) if we did not depend upon mass production techniques in farming. I grew up in a very rural farming community and we always had a large garden and it is a lot of work. Gardens are a big help and no mistake, but in the modern world, mass-production farming is crucial.

    But I still make a point of buying organic whenever I can (and when I can afford it), and buying free-range eggs and grass-fed beef.

  • Igor

    In fact, the excess production of US farms is all that stands between the USA and utter ruin. It is agriculture that balances out our imports with exports. We would never have been able to afford the extravagant luxuries foisted on us by the American ruling class, two expensive remote foreign wars, huge tax gifts to the rich, an indolent and pampered ruling class (that the pashas and czars of the past would envy), etc., without the bounty of our ag system that is the most productive in the world (never mind, for the moment, that so much of it is overpriced inedible dreck, it DOES have calories).

  • http://www.malikirkuk.com Adrian

    There are various social programs in various countries and in reality there are countries where a lot more people are claiming welfare than in America. The question is is it their fault that they need to claim it or now?

  • Igor

    Adrian: trying to assign ‘fault’ is a hopeless task. Don’t even start. All you’ll get is endless moral quandries that are no more productive than trying to determine How Many Angels Can Stand On The head Of A Pin.

    What would you do anyhow if you could assign ‘fault’? Kill the bastards?

    You have to abandon all so-called ‘moral’ ideas.

    Instead, try to find a solution, one that doesn’t involve horrendous punishment (which isn’t going to work anyhow).

    We just need a better way to distribute the benefits of our very productive society: food, shelter, medical care, etc.

    It won’t do any good to whip the workers on to higher productivity since we already have too many hours of worker time available than is required by the industrial system.

    Increasingly we must channel money and resources to the poorest among us, which has the beneficial side-effect of increasing Economic Demand (which is the driving force in a capital economy) thus making more work available.

  • troll

    …I’m shocked (dogmatically speaking that is) that you propose that angels would stand around on the head of a pin without dancing or anything

    you make them sound like loiterers – and potential terrorists

  • Clav

    They’re probably all on EBT anyway, troll.

  • Doug Hunter

    The subtitle or whatever of the article states ‘Americans are Starving Too”. To be fair, when we speak of African starvation their are easily accessible and abundant evidence and photographs of rail thin starving children.

    Can someone link to this documented evidence of ‘starving’ Americans? This always comes up when discussing politics, any scale back of even the most recent welfare expansions leads to taunts that I want to ‘starve’ kids, elderly, etc. (many times ‘to death’) Can someone provide evidence of starving Americans or link to when the last non-anorexic/medical starvation was in the US?

    Doc had very pertinent questions in #1.

    1. People are on welfare for the same reasons humans do anything, it’s the greatest perceived benefit, the easiest road according to their understanding.

    2. Make decisions leading out of poverty more accessible and attractive than decisions leading into poverty. Jobs and economy play a large role here lifting all boats as they say, government could do alot here as well with financial incentives targeting the cultural aspect, but strangely they do precisely the opposite… increasing incentives as people make even worse decisions. This is good policy for the transitory poor, targeting the most needy, but it’s horrible for the intergenerational type.

    A few ideas I’d throw around (probably already been looked at somewhere)

    #1 Analyze the tax/income/benefit curve for most common family makeups and make sure additional income is incentivized. I’ve done limited research and found large areas where there are inversions or plateaus. For example a family of 4 making $25K versus $65K. Seems big until you account for the lower income family gets free healthcare, food stamps, negative tax rates, WIC, energy assistance, free cell phones, and possibly housing assistance. In reality there’s very little difference in how these two families can afford to live, maybe just a couple hundred $$$ per month. Enough for the ‘middle class’ family to get a moderately newer car and afford a couple extra hundred for rent/mortgage to live outside the poverty zone.

    #2 Get creative with strings attached to benefits. Since it’s deemed as cruel to cut off benefits you could consider strings. One nice perk the government could play is the type of benefit they provide. Right now you have three level: WIC only allows select, somewhat nutritions foods to be purchased, food stamps provide a much larger range, and cash benefits can be used for anything. You could use these levels as incentives. A person with no job, no education gets restricted food basics only even if the dollar amount does not go down. They get their GED, get part time work, then the benefits change to traditional foodstamps, offering a wider variety, etc. Say they get married or continue their education, etc. then they get upgraded to cash benefits. There are unlimited combinations that could be tried, like upgrades based on submitting to drug tests for convicted drug users, etc.

    #3 Overhaul disability. Another large benefit area currently used by the poor is disability benefits for ‘unemployable’. In my experience it’s usually the back or some psychological disorder (bipolar seems to be the most common in my parts) that gets them essentially lifetime benefits, but has serious restrictions on their working. We need to modernize our disability system which was created when the only disability that counted was a missing limb or two or emminent death. We need to understand the changing customer base and the more flexible definition of disabled we have adopted requires a more nuanced system with a better range of benefits.

  • Zedd

    ” People are on welfare for the same reasons humans do anything, it’s the greatest perceived benefit, the easiest road according to their understanding.”

    YES!

    On #2 I’d say that you left out how the effect of the politicization of poverty and education has thrown the poor out of the dialogue. What the poor are contending with is skipping through a minefield of distorted perceptions which make it nearly impossible to navigate past. We know how Liza Doolittle made it out, she got the road map, imagine trying to “get out” in this climate.

  • Zedd

    Doug – I like that you are talking solutions. I see some snares but cool that a discussion about solutions is afoot. I hope to have time to comment on them in the next day or so.

  • Doug Hunter

    “What the poor are contending with is skipping through a minefield of distorted perceptions which make it nearly impossible to navigate past.”

    Maybe, sometimes. My view of the poor was shaped when I bought some lower end apartments and managed them myself at one point.They weren’t government subsidized, but the next step up, people headed towards government housing, those temporarily down on their luck, and the working poor in general. It’s like having a pretty big local sample of case studies. I got their initial applications and overview of their resources, being a chatterbox I also got updates and to see firsthand how their live’s played out over the following months/years. The weaknesses being I live in a very low cost of living area so welfare benefits are relatively more generous here than elsewhere, also by nature rural areas are less segregated by race and class so those problems are proportionally less.

    Let’s just say my perception, while certainly not the straw man as laid out in the original article, is neither the pure victim portrait as laid out by my liberal social science professors in college either. My opinion is that champions of the poor, often middle or upper class themselves, too often project themselves onto others in these situations. The chronically poor aren’t simply middle class folks minus income and opportunity, they have an entirely different standard of upbringing… no different than any other culture. Conditions that might seem appalling in my upbringing seem normal to them, standards of behavior are much different.

    I don’t have any answers. On one hand I’m conflicted as to the morality of even manipulating their culture or telling them how they ‘should’ live. On the other I have petty feelings of selfishness having a role in subsidizing their choices in perpetuity.

    Although it’s rarely laid out as such, I think the above is a root dilemma lots of people encounter and the solutions are telling. Some prefer top down approaches telling people how they ‘should’ live, others selfishly can’t stomach subsidizing other’s behavior (I can go back and forth from day to day), a tiny few well adjusted people are satisfied that the cost to society of poor decisionmaking is a worthy
    price of freedom (I’m working on it).

    Ultimately, as I’ve always contended, the freedom to do only the ‘right’ things isn’t really freedom at all.

  • Igor

    Really; hunger in America IS a problem.

    Wash post 2009


    Hunger a growing problem in America, USDA reports

    By Amy Goldstein
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    The nation’s economic crisis has catapulted the number of Americans who lack enough food to the highest level since the government has been keeping track, according to a new federal report, which shows that nearly 50 million people — including almost one child in four — struggled last year to get enough to eat.

    America’s economic pain brings hunger pangs
    The USDA’s 2008 report (pdf)

    At a time when rising poverty, widespread unemployment and other effects of the recession have been well documented, the report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the government’s first detailed portrait of the toll that the faltering economy has taken on Americans’ access to food.


    The data show that dependable access to adequate food has especially deteriorated among families with children. In 2008, nearly 17 million children, or 22.5 percent, lived in households in which food at times was scarce — 4 million children more than the year before. And the number of youngsters who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

    Among Americans of all ages, more than 16 percent — or 49 million people — sometimes ran short of nutritious food, compared with about 12 percent the year before. The deterioration in access to food during 2008 among both children and adults far eclipses that of any other single year in the report’s history.

    Around the Washington area, the data show, the extent of food shortages varies significantly. In the past three years, an average of 12.4 percent of households in the District had at least some problems getting enough food, slightly worse than the national average. In Maryland, the average was 9.6 percent, and in Virginia it was 8.6 percent.

    …As the economy eroded, Weill said, “you had more and more people getting pushed closer to the cliff’s edge. Then this huge storm came along and pushed them over.”

    most families in which food is scarce contain at least one adult with a full-time job, suggesting that the problem lies at least partly in wages, not entirely an absence of work.

    The report suggests that federal food assistance programs are only partly fulfilling their purpose, although Vilsack said that shortages would be much worse without them.

    Last year, people in 4.8 million households used private food pantries, compared with 3.9 million in 2007, while people in about 625,000 households resorted to soup kitchens, nearly 90,000 more than the year before.

    … Last year, more than one in three single mothers reported that they struggled for food, and more than one in seven said that someone in their home had been hungry — far eclipsing the food problem in any other kind of household. …

    In the survey used to measure food shortages, people were considered to have food insecurity if they answered “yes” to several of a series of questions. Among the questions were whether, in the past year, their food sometimes ran out before they had money to buy more, whether they could not afford to eat nutritionally balanced meals, and whether adults in the family sometimes cut the size of their meals — or skipped them — because they lacked money for food. …

  • Igor

    People who die of malnutrition usually are recorded with a COD of “exposure”, “hypothermia”, “organ failure”, etc. That’s why we don’t see scary headlines about malnutrition.

    An obese person can easily die of malnutrition because unhealthy foods full of salt and grease and other chemicals create a disparity between appearance and reality.

    Even some ‘benign’ foods can contribute to the problem. For example, the gluten in wheat bread can cause the lining of the stomach to malfunction and inhibit absorption of protein, even while eating well. That’s what Ciliacs disease (gluten sensitivity) does to people. Northern Europeans are susceptible to gluten. Wheat is relatively recent (about 4000 years) in the human evolution and humans haven’t fully evolved to deal with it. You get sick even while eating lots of protein.

  • http://www.passionoftruth.blogspot.com Pam Messingham

    Igor,
    My daughter is both diabetic and has celiacs. It’s rough, and expensive.
    I don’t understand why people don’t want to believe that there are starving Americans. I guess it just can’t be real in the great U.S. Chances are, if jobs are scarce, homes are being lost, food, too, is an issue.

  • Igor

    The combination of diabetes and ciliacs is very common, and little wonder: so many of us have northern European heritage, and so much pro-diabetic food is force-fed to us.

    Sometimes it appears that USA consumers are in the condition of those French geese that are force-fed to exaggerate their livers to make fois gras. They are force-fed until the liver is distended and then either die prematurely or are butchered. Same with American consumers. Their premature deaths are testimony to the power of propaganda. Yet they will valiantly tell you they made their own choices, oblivious to the mercenary compulsions that have ruined them.