In Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games, youths are forced to fight to the death as entertainment for the ruling elite. While the title refers to the name of this annual ritual of human sacrifice, it could equally describe the struggle for survival of most of the people living in this dystopian, future America. A particularly cruel example is a policy where people can get additional rations of food if they submit their names to the lottery for the Hunger Games. This increases their likelihood of being “reaped.”
As difficult as times are, we do not yet live in an America as horrific as the one in Collins’ imagination. However, as far as hunger goes, for some left behind by the Great Recession the future is now. According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, in 2010 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households. This refers to those who were hungry or faced food insecurity at some point during the year.
As a social worker, I’ve met many people who are living with food insecurity. One was a woman who had been laid off from her job as an engineer. Her deteriorating economic situation was tearing at the fabric of her family life. She shared that her teenage daughter was enraged that they had too little food to eat at home. For the first time in her life, this mother had to learn to rely on food stamps and food pantries.
Americans like these have to play a hunger game of their own. The game goes like this. Do I pay for medications or do I pay for food? Do I pay my mortgage or do I pay for food? The Center for American Progress reports that in 2010 nearly half of the households seeking emergency food assistance had to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food. More than a third had to choose between their medical bills and food. Nearly 40 percent had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food.
The Baha’i Faith identifies hunger is one indication of a social order that has proven to be lamentably defective at supporting material well-being. ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) Head of the Baha’i Faith observed that:
“One of the most important principles of the Teaching of Bahá’u'lláh is the right of every human being to the daily bread whereby they exist, or the equalization of the means of livelihood…Some we find with numerous courses of costly and dainty food; whilst others can scarce find sufficient crusts to keep them alive. This condition of affairs is wrong, and must be remedied.”
The significance of hunger, and the economic inequities it dramatizes, transcend personal agony. The Baha’i Faith teaches that extremes in the gap between the haves and have-nots have negative consequences for society as a whole. This spiritual principle is confirmed by the the Center For American Progress’ report. Lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed costs America at least $167.5 billion.
Many are seeking to draw attention to the ways in which the American Dream has become a dream deferred. Increasing food insecurity is yet another example of a society which desperately needs to rethink its priorities and its policies.