To other countries, especially those we send financial aid to, it may seem unbelievable that ANY American lives in poverty, or has any problem getting enough food. Looking at our obesity rates, it looks like we need to be sending more food overseas, and subsidizing treadmills here. But it’s much more complex and complicated than what the surface image shows. Malnutrition isn’t just about inadequate food, it’s also about inferior and altered foods. Poverty isn’t just about living in recessed or depressed areas, but a result of the trashed economy.
Per the 2011 statistics from a hunger statistic website, 15% of Americans were living at or below the poverty limits. (Roughly one in six Americans is poor). Those limits are low enough to make basic expenses impossible to meet. Poverty limits are, however, above minimum wage if someone has one full-time job. (Our minimum wage supports poverty). The standard set by the government to define poverty is ridiculously low. And people are out there living below that limit. I’ve visited areas in this country, with our tourist brochures of amazingly beautiful parks and tourist sites, and maps of the movie stars’ homes in Hollywood, that consider a cinder block house with a tin roof to be a sturdy- and enviable – home. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen the barefoot kids with the hollow eyes. I was only 16 myself at the time, and it’s an image I won’t forget.
According to those same statistics, 50+million people in America don’t have enough food. Often the foods that are affordable are nutritionally bankrupt. Fresh produce is a luxury and at the bottom of the grocery list, as it’s more important to get calorically dense items for each dollar spent. Much of that is junk food, so it’s very possible to have someone who is visibly obese, yet deficient in many nutrients. Over 16 million children in this country know hunger as a daily part of their existence. How that will affect their physical development and well-being is better known than how it will affect the country as a whole, as their generation will be compromised in their ability to learn. That will result in kids who never fill their potential, or maximize their earning potential- and ability to get out of the cycle of poverty and hunger.
Americans are often portrayed as relatively wealthy and lacking nothing. When it comes to food, our obesity rates are horrible and getting worse. With the economy being as bad as it’s been in the last several years, the effects of ‘not enough’ are hitting socioeconomic groups that had been very comfortable and stable. Homeless shelters are getting more families with educated parents who simply can’t get work, and who have lost their homes. Americans need help here ‘at home’, and all of the financial aid sent to other countries is frustrating when the statistics here are so unacceptable. There are many who are very hesitant to ‘give handouts’ as it perpetuates a cycle of dependency in those of a mindset of entitlement. That is different than people who legitimately can’t get adequate nutritious food. Yes, there are Americans whose greed and inability to deny themselves nearly everything they want makes them look rich (but in debt up to their eyeballs). There are those who are successful, and doing well. But there are far too many who actually have very basic needs that aren’t met.
There are wonderful private charities that do what they can. There are rescue and homeless shelters. There are food banks and soup kitchens run by non-profit organizations. There are thrift stores that benefit programs for the homeless and poor. They all work very hard, and do a wonderful job- but the job is too big. Our own citizens are still in a world of hurt. NO child in this country should leave home for school without a nutritious breakfast. No child should come home after school to the bleak fact that they won’t have anything for dinner. More than sixteen million kids live in that pain. They don’t just have poor quality food, there isn’t enough of it.
I think it’s great that we help other countries. I think it’s important that we continue to do so- and yet we need to get our own house in order. We need to walk the walk, and quit with the cheap talk. If other countries sent people to document areas in the Appalachian mountains, depressed rural communities, inner city school kids who are falling asleep because they don’t have the energy to stay awake, or the people who would do anything for a job, but can’t find one- and see the reality of this country right now, they’d be sending us aid.
The quality of American crops/food products is also an issue. GMOs- or genetically modified organisms- are what make up the vast majority of corn, soy, and canola crops in the US. Few processed foods don’t include one or more of those crops. A lot of rice is also genetically modified. This is done to increase the yield per acre, so for financial gain, even though the studies on rats have shown tumor growth and organ failure, and human studies were never done. Monsanto (a pesticide corporation) is the manufacturer of these seeds used in our food supply. A bug killer company makes the building blocks of our food. Any product made from their corn, soy, or canola crops are also genetically modified, so high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, soybean oil, soy protein, etc are also ‘contaminated’ by the GMO process. Many countries will not let GMO products into their borders, or ban the growth of them there. The US government doesn’t care about the human effects of GMOs. Bovine growth hormones, used to increase milk production in dairy cows, is also of questionable safety. Artificial sweeteners also have links to Monsanto. There are ‘organic’ options- but unless a product is labelled ‘USDA Certified Organic’, it’s possible that a GMO seed was used, but grown without added chemicals.
So, we continue to send billions of dollars to countries that aren’t solid allies. We cut back on nutrition programs here. People (and the politicians) fight about ‘handouts’ while kids go to school hungry, and don’t see dinner. Our obesity rates soar, partly because of disordered relationships with food – but also because nutritious food can be inaccessible financially. Junk is cheap. Families are in shelters because jobs aren’t there to make rent or mortgage payments possible. It’s sad. The ‘new’ American dream has been greatly altered from the post-WWII dreams of owning a home and living with minimal debt (and that debt was for needs– not wants). It’s a new definition of survival. Yes- the vast majority of people in the US are making it- however well or poorly. But there are millions…MILLIONS… of US citizens who are malnourished from hunger. I don’t have any solid answers…but I do think that our priorities need to shift from such a ‘fix your neighbor’ mentality, to ‘save our skin’ outlook. Maybe not permanently, but until we get a handle on our own horrible social and economic issues here.
America is hurting. Add to that the divisiveness of our politicians, the more extreme members of political parties (to the point of hatred and absolute repulsion for the other ‘side’), and the relationships between ordinary citizens based on the same hatred, and the idea that anything will be solved seems unreachable. I know that people from 23 countries have read my blog posts. I wonder how many of those countries know how crazy things are here, and how many of OUR citizens are in need of help.