Deceptions in the Hunger Crusade, Part 1

Deceptions in the Hunger Crusade

A sucker might be born every minute, but this is getting hard to swallow.




Selling hunger is easy. Humans have a moral sense that stirs within their breast when another’s hunger is known. Everyone wants to help. That is only natural. Hunger sympathy is the commonest and least remarkable altruism.


Certainly hunger exists and resolving hunger is a moral imperative. The Bible teaches, “deal thy bread to the hungry[1].” Ethics requires a person to try to know the hungry and provide them with food and real solutions for their plight, always proceeding from a true assessment of scope and causes.


The public has been denied this true assessment. Reliable hunger numbers are hard to find. In the process of composing this article, this author spoke with a friend who had received a solicitation for funds from the Montana Food Bank Network. He got no further than reading that one in seven people are hungry. Disbelieving, he immediately discarded the piece. Inflated claims of hunger have the perverse effect of thwarting desires to help those who lack food.


The following representations made by the hunger-industrial complex can be refuted or have insufficient evidence in their support:


  • USDA’s food insecurity survey provides a reliable measure of food insecurity.
  • Food insecurity and hunger are semantic equivalents.
  • Children do not have sufficient food and only universal and free breakfast, lunch and supper, year-around, can solve the problem.
  • The name of SNAP accurately describes program outputs.
  • Food stamps primarily buy actual food.
  • The poor buy a lot of dry pasta like noodles and spaghetti.
  • The SNAP Challenge simulates life on food stamps.
  • SNAP recipients can’t afford their own food.
  • Cutting 5% from $78 billion food stamp spending necessarily requires cutting the number of recipients.
  • Alaska’s per person food stamp bonus is justified by higher food prices there.
  • The theory of calorie mining squares the circle of simultaneous obesity and hunger.
  • Not enough effort is given to teaching school students and aid recipients about good nutrition.
  • Nutrition education programs are proven to be good value for taxpayers.
  • Hunger crusaders are enemies of giant agri-business corporations.
  • Feeding America’s $1=8 meals figure means if you give them a dollar, they will provide the makings for eight meals.



Sometimes generous impulses are satisfied merely by contemplating hunger, by wanting to know that there are hungry people, especially hungry children, and that they are everywhere, unseen. “I’m thinking about people in need, therefore my compassion is great. I feel a comfortable superiority by thinking more about hungry people than others do.” Hunger portrayals in the media thus fall on the ready soil of fertile hearts. Celebrities[2], authors, movie directors and reporters assail the public with claims of wide-spread hunger. Many people find such messaging hard to grasp when what they observe is a fattening population. The incessant messaging has background support from government programs, non-profits and businesses, employees of which profit by cultivating charitable, and sometimes gullible, sentiments.


This article strives to starve gullibility, to insist that pathos has a factual basis. The public is fed a constant diet of mis-information, unhelpful if true causes are to be known and effective solutions to be gleaned. People have been satiated on hunger mis-information; it is time for a diet so that the focus can be on the important task of offering nutritious food to those who cannot provide it for themselves.



Quantifying Hunger


Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks, advertises that

  • seventeen million children in America live in a food-insecure household
  • one in six Americans does not have access to enough food
  • limited resources prevent 50 million Americans from getting enough food.


From whence come these numbers?


The Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducts a survey[3] of households. They group respondents into four categories ranging from High Food Security to Very Low Food Security. The last category was formerly Food Insecurity With Hunger. The term hunger is now not approved by the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), part of the National Academies. They recommended changes, in the interest of semantic integrity. “The CNSTAT panel also recommended that USDA make a clear and explicit distinction between food insecurity and hunger.” This official chastisement rarely gets clarified in the public discussion of the matter, however. Hunger is frequently the term used; it misleads the public.


A direct quote from the Committee’s criticism is:


Hunger is not adequately assessed in the food security survey.

Yet we hear Jeff Bridges’ End Hunger Network, the No Kid Hungry Campaign, the End Childhood Hunger conferences and endless haranguing in newspaper and television stories about widespread, lurking hunger. Feeding America scrupulously avoids the word hunger in the above statistics, but peppers the term liberally throughout their website[4], (a website whose photos feature numerous people with pounds to shed.)


The USDA survey tool has apparent flaws. It asks respondents about perceptions and memories of household conditions over the past 12 months. Temporal discontinuity-time lag-dilutes survey integrity; memories fade.


Note the survey’s first four questions and their emphasis on money. All the survey questions have a money component.


Survey Questions Used by USDA to Assess Household Food Security[5]

1. “We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

2. “The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

3. “We couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

4. In the last 12 months, did you or other adults in the household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food? (Yes/No)


Who thinks they have enough money? When a respondent hears these questions, their mind could divert to the issue of money, thinking that they “couldn’t afford” the things they want, in general, not just with respect to food. “Of course, I can’t afford many things.”


The CNSTAT committee on statistics may want to require future surveys to address food itself, apart from financial perceptions, as well as the temporal separation problem.


Even with the time lag and financial diversion problems with the survey, only 5.7% of households were categorized as Very Low Food Security. To accept that the food security situation in this country is “dire” could be an emotional binge.


Food insecurity and hunger are semantically non-equivalent. The USDA’s information is an unsure foundation, on which is built the entire hunger-industrial complex.



Childhood Hunger


Do children not have sufficient food?


Pudgy children are commonplace. Yet activists bemoan a dire situation with childhood hunger. Two sources are given; the general numbers from USDA’s questionable household survey and school teachers’ observations.


“Half of teachers surveyed reported that hunger is a serious problem in their classrooms[6]. Another 73 percent said they see students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough food at home.” Yet 67% of K-12 schools serve breakfast. These numbers contradict. If 67% of schools serve breakfast, only 33% of kids are not offered breakfast; how can half of teachers report that hunger is a serious problem?


Teachers often do not have knowledge of the particulars of homes’ inventories. How do teachers define a “serious problem?” Perhaps teachers are not recognizing a general state of pervasive hunger, but that there are a few that complain of hunger in spite of the school-based and other government food programs.


Children are glutted with food offerings. Primary schools can offer breakfast in the classroom, breakfast before school, a sack breakfast tardy students can pick up and eat in the classroom, a mid-morning fruit, vegetable and milk snack, lunch, after school supper, weekend food backpacks and the Summer Food Program. Some high schools offer teen food pantries. Kids’ parents get up to $200 in monthly food stamps in the child’s name. Pantries and soup kitchens serve children. Parents buy food with earned dollars. Children in pre-schools, day care centers and Headstart get government food. The effort is multi-faceted, pervasive and expensive. Children cannot escape servings; overweight children should not cause surprise.


In some schools, principals guard classroom instruction time from further encroachments of food serving times. Hunger advocates pressure principals to add the feedings.


At a Montana conference addressing childhood hunger, participants explored ways to increase numbers of children participating in school breakfast. Their preferred setting is in the classroom; before-school play is not interrupted and universal participation can be better assured. More kids are present at such a classroom feeding than for the before-school feeding. Seeking out the food is not optional. No stigma can attach to being needy if everyone is getting it; there is no line for the needy, as used to happen in school lunch. The dairy industry lobbies[7] schools to adopt breakfast in the classroom; that industry has obviously seen greater consumption of milk when in-class breakfast supplants before-school breakfast.


Free, universal lunch is being implemented around the country. The Obama Administration is urging schools to adopt the Community Eligibility Option[8] (CEO), whereby one low income school in a district, or a certain percentage of qualifying students, qualifies that entire district’s students to receive free lunch and breakfast regardless of household income. Boston schools[9] recently adopted CEO, though only 80% of the children there qualify for free or reduced school lunch; the other children are now herded to the free food. The Boston Globe reported:


Boston public schools will begin serving free lunches to all students this school year even if families have the financial means to pay, school officials are expected to announce Tuesday.


In some schools students are not allowed to pack lunches from home[10]. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.


Certainly teacher observations of hungry children carry some validity. Strangely, isolated childhood hunger may exist despite the cornucopia of food provisioning. Errant parents foil best government efforts. Children who do not get up to catch the bus and whose parent delivers them to the school so late as to miss any of the three possible breakfast offerings will be hungry, even if their home kitchen shelves and refrigerators bulge with consumables. This conundrum defies remedy.


Plate waste measured at school lunch programs shows children qualifying for free lunch wasting 46% more[11] than children paying full price. Waste hardly indicates ravenous appetites; waste contradicts neediness claims.


Summer food program waste is about 30%. Summer food program kids waste 48% of vegetables served[12].


Low participation- kids not using the program-in the Summer Food Program hints that children have more sources of food than what school provides. Low participation also undermines the rationale for food programs and proposals to expand them.  Afterschool Alliance reported:


Last summer, only 1 in 7 of the children who depend on free or reduced-price school lunches through the National School Lunch Program during the school year received a summer meal[13].


Another source puts summer participation at 10.6 percent as many kids[14] as in free school lunch, 2.3 million vs. 21.5 million[15]. (Bear in mind that the summer program’s eligible participants are aged 0-18, a bigger cohort than that of the school year’s whose ages range from about 5 to those who have graduated.)[16]


Some explain low summer food participation as a function of the lack of busing, but when kids from the neighborhood near the serving site do not come, other explanations, like sufficiency of food for the child at home, make more sense.


At the Montana childhood hunger conference, a speaker said summer participation was low even in feeding sites placed in low-income neighborhoods, and where kids are within walking distance of the site. The author has observed this first-hand. Kids are fending for themselves. One conference speaker said that some kids look to weekends and vacation breaks with dismay “knowing they will have less food.” This phenomenon needs study. By all means, address the needs of any hungry child. Find those individuals and examine their circumstances. What failure is the cause? Do they return to school after a ninety-day vacation thinner?


Greater investment in free transportation, bringing kids to the food, or food to the kids, were two proposals to rectify low participation in summer food programs.  To capture all possible hungry children, buses would have to comb the same routes as they do during the school year and bring kids for lunch. But what about breakfast? And supper? Would the kids have to be kept for the entire day, breakfast-to-dinner, to insure feeding? Or are kids and families more self-reliant than that, as indicated by low participation in summer feeding sites even those close to the homes of low-income children?


Heaping more free meals on kids is more likely to promote weight gain than to succeed in the worthy work of solving hunger.


Experts claim that feeding children more will improve behavior, increase attendance, increase test scores and improve graduation rates. John Endahl of USDA Food and Nutrition Service said, “We ran a pilot, providing free breakfast to all.” Some indicators of success went up but results were unsatisfying. “The problem is that so many get breakfast at home.” Hopefully parents feeding their own children is considered a problem because it clouded results, not because independence is frowned on. “We saw no increase in scores though there is stuff out there that suggests that a healthy breakfast gets children ready to learn.” Scientists are straining to prove readiness to learn, proficiency, attendance and graduation rates. Every confirmatory finding is heralded. A study could ask if too frequent feedings and too many calories dazes kids.


[1] Isaiah 58:7

[7] Interview with a school lunch administrator

[16] Digging into these participation numbers further, 3.5 billion lunches are served yearly in the school lunch program to those eligible for free-and-reduced lunches. 140 million lunches are served in the Summer Food Service Program, 3.9% as many, in a period 1/3 as long as the school year, annualized to11.8%. This calculation comports fairly well with figures in the above paragraph. See the footnotes from fns.usda.



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