Melton: America is land of the rich, home of the hungry

The war on hunger has been raging on for decades. By 1968, 10 million Americans were estimated to be hungry; 1 in every 20. In 2012, that number had risen to 49 million. That is 1 out of every 6 Americans suffering from food insecurity, and the ones who suffer the most are our children. 1 in 2 children will have to utilize food assistance programs at some point in their life. That is half of a generation being deprived of enough food to maintain a healthy and happy life. They are being subjected to the detrimental effects of poor nutrition, such as the development of asthma, anemia, obesity, etc., not because of a lack of food, but simply because we don’t know how to distribute our wealth.

Poverty is the breeding ground for this hunger. Not only are food stamps unnecessarily difficult to qualify for, receiving them doesn’t guarantee the provision of well balanced meals. Imagine being a single mother of two who is recently unemployed. The food stamp gods have smiled upon you and you qualify to receive government assistance every month. You’re set, right? No more growling toddler tummies, right? Wrong. Food stamps typically provide you with around $3 a day and will usually run out before the end of the month. What are you supposed to do for that last week? What will you feed yourself and your children for $3? The answer is simple and it’s saturated. The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has increased almost 40% since 1980, whereas processed food prices have decreased about the same percentage. So with your $3 you can either get a single apple, or 5 bags of potato chips. Regardless of what you know to be healthy, you’re going to pick whatever will give your children the most calories because it is all you can afford. This is the logic thousands of families across the country must follow because they can’t afford to purchase healthy options. The truly messed up part is that if this single mother gets a job, she is endanger of having “too high” of an income to qualify for food stamps, making it increasingly difficult to provide for her children. No one should be punished for trying to make ends meet for their family.

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Non-processed foods are so difficult for impoverished people to attain, and the secret is in the subsidies. The government spends a majority of its farming funds on surplus crops that are ingredients for processed foods. The overproduction of these products leads to the decrease of the prices of these processed foods, which in turn increases the price of the fruits and veggies, whose farming doesn’t receive as much government funding. The lack of access to these healthy options plays a huge role in childhood obesity; an issue that goes hand in hand with hunger.

Luckily the government is here to save the day with programs to assist children who are lacking the necessary sustenance to help them develop healthily and avoid obesity. These programs include the National School Lunch Program which provides increased accessibility to fruits, vegetables and whole grain, all of which are vital to a healthy development. Over 31.6 million children a day receive these lunches which benefit them both physically and mentally. Hungry students can not produce the quality of work they are capable of, and it’s not fair to rob these children of their education simply because of their situation. That just adds to the cycle of the impoverished remaining uneducated, causing them to remain impoverished and repeat. Here’s the catch about these “superhero” government programs, in the words of Tom Colicchio, “[…]in the original bill, President Obama asked for $10 billion over 10 years, a billion dollars a year. Rep. (George) Miller from California brought it down to 8 billion. It got to the Senate, Blanche Lincoln brought it down to 4 1/2. It had to settle for 4 1/2, but I think it was 2 billion or 2.5 billion that came out of food stamps. Essentially, you’re stealing from dinner to pay for lunch.” This bill only added a minuscule amount of funding to these programs, and it did it by stealing a majority from food stamps. The government seems to think that taking money from the hungry to help feed the (other) hungry, and the use of food banks, are the magical solution to this problem. In reality, big legislative changes must be made that far outweigh charity in effectiveness. We must cut down subsidized farms and invest in organic fruit and vegetable farms; we must make food stamps more accessible to the impoverished so that no child is forced to go hungry; and we must make these changes soon if we are ever going to save our children from the beast that is hunger.