National Geographic Magazine recently came out with The New Face of Hunger. Like A Place at the Table the article details the “new hungry” in America: many are working poor and most are overweight. So I would have to disagree with the article header that these people are “malnourished.” They are, in fact, over-nourished, like the rest of America. But that doesn’t mean they don’t go hungry or have inconsistent access to food. In fact, overweight people are going to feel hunger a lot harder than a thin person, since their body is accustomed to eating more.
At many points this article had me scratching my head. We hear the usual themes, namely:
* healthy food is expensive
It’s not, and I’ve shown it many times over in this blog. Yes, organic kumquats from Whole Foods are expensive, but non-organic romaine and carrots are cheap at hole-in-the-wall produce stands. I can easily feed my family of 9 on $180-200 a week, which is below what our SNAP allotment would be were we eligible.
* you need to eat healthy foods to stay fit
Again, not true. If you read my blog you know that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. People can lose weight on twinkie diets. And the “fat head” guy lost weight and improved his cholesterol levels eating nothing but “unhealthy” fast food (he didn’t eat any of the salads). He did, however, limit his daily calorie and carb intake to 2000 kcal and 100 g respectively. And in Supersize vs Superskinny, most of the superskinnies eat junk. One superskinny woman survives on toast and a candy bar each day.
*poor people are more likely to be fat due to the above reason
If you look at data from the CDC you will see the supposed correlation between poverty and obesity is weak, especially in adults. People across all economic strata are overweight. In fact, among certain races and genders, like black men, the reverse it true: wealthier ones are more likely to be fat.
*poor people live in food deserts
The notion of food deserts was long ago disproven. Even the NYtimes admits they rarely exist. Instead, the real problem is when people in suburban and rural areas don’t have a working vehicle. That definitely is a problem when trying to shop frugally for food (or anything else). Perhaps food banks could expand their services to include volunteer grocery runs for car-less families.
The NG article is strong on the ubiquitous push for fruits and vegetables to solve the hunger problem, even going so far as to blame the government for subsidizing corn and soy but not fruits and veggies. As much as I personally love fruits and veggies, they have a very low satiation index compared to protein rich and fatty foods, and this is why the new USDA breakfast/ lunch standards are so troublesome even if kids weren’t throwing most of it in the trash. Indeed, the overweight three year old in this article refuses his free breakfast even when his mother intentionally sends him to school hungry.
Here’s the thing though: not only do they not make you lose weight, but fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten by hardly anyone- either rich or poor. Here is a USDA pdf containing a detailed list of calorie sources for Americans by food type (scroll to page 25 for it). Unless potato chips, fruit drinks, and french fries count, fresh produce doesn’t even make the list.
So why are we wagging our collective finger- and that would include the first lady’s ever reaching finger- at the poor to eat their veggies when no one else is doing it? It would be more efficient simply to encourage more homecooking, whether of foodie-approved dishes or not, to stretch SNAP dollars as far as possible. Perhaps SNAP recipients should receive complementary kitchen items like crock pots and mixers; while it would be an added expense, it would save money- and prevent hunger- in the long run.
For instance one family in this article complains their $125 monthly assistance leaves them with empty cupboards (this is on top of the income of three working adults). But I immediately ran the calculations in my head: $125 can buy 350 lbs of flour (a 50 lb bag is $17), which in turn would make more than 500 3-cup loaves of bread. That’s 16 loaves of bread a day in addition to what they purchase separate from SNAP. Bread may not be the most filling thing in the world but a three cup loaf will certainly get you through, especially if it’s not all you’re eating. But apparently most of these people- and people in general- don’t cook either due to lack of knowledge or because they’re too burnt out, tired and stressed. This is where a housewife would come in handy, but those are going the way of the dodo. In fact the only family in this article that does eat well (and interestingly, isn’t fat) and has a small food stockpile that could last months, is a family where food is managed by a stay at home mom. Ironically she got the nastiest comments from commenters (I haven’t read comments on NG, but did on another site) criticizing her for “not working” and for her irresponsible breeding. I guess we women only have ourselves to blame for this attitude. Ever since second wave feminism, having children and managing a household are considered a pathetic waste of time. And if a mother is poor to boot, forget about it. Her ovaries should be ripped out for the sake of humanity. Thanks a lot Betty Friedan.