America’s Most Desperate: Why are 50 million Americans starving?

Source: Associated Press

Source: Associated Press

The protesters camped at Wall Street are not just speaking out against corporate greed, they are middle and lower income Americans whose lives have been devastated by poverty and hunger – compounded by Washington’s apathy.

Robert, a 57-year-old Vietnam veteran, is a descendant of a long line of American servicemen. Two years ago, he lost his home in Florida and moved to Connecticut, where he now lives out of a van. Often, the only hot meal he has is at the community soup kitchen. Robert’s hardest days are Wednesday and Sunday when the charity doesn’t operate; then he has nothing to eat.

Five years after the death of her husband, Rosalinde Block found herself at a New York food pantry, in desperate need of food to feed herself and her teenage son. She is no ordinary American. According to ABC News, the 58-year-old graduated from an elite American college and made her life as a musician, illustrator, author and teacher of music and art.

Roy is a casualty of the New England fishing industry that went bust in 2007. With nothing in the way of savings, the 39-year-old found himself homeless for the first time in his life. Hunger has forced the once proud Maryland resident to visit local charities.

Sherry Byrum, 50, is a minimum wage worker at a day care centre in Spokane Valley, Washington. She and her husband, who is unable to work because of heart surgery, get groceries at a local food bank, but there have been occasions when the couple have gone several days without food. “We’ve got to pay our bills,” Byrum says. “I can’t buy us the things we should eat because of our diabetes. Sometimes I go to bed in tears thinking I just can’t do it all.”


America may be the land of the free, but it is also the land of the hungry. Job losses, home foreclosures and other recent crises have been truly life altering for Americans, with over 50 million who do not know where their next meal will come from. That’s one in six Americans struggling with hunger.

This is the official figure in December 2010 and experts say the current figure could be higher. “The numbers are provided by the US Department of Agriculture,” Ross Fraser of Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, informed this writer.

Doctors at American clinics say they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children they treat who are dangerously thin; that’s not surprising considering hunger is an everyday reality for 16 million American children.



What is worrying the American establishment is the demographic that is seeking help. Most of the newcomers that show up at Feeding America’s centres are from middle class backgrounds and had until now managed without handouts.

All across the country, from LA to New York, it seems the soup kitchen lines are getting longer. And requests are so high food centres nationwide are turning away the hungry. “We will soon have the most food stamps recipients in the history of our country,” says Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

Indeed, right now many are fighting for their lives. A USDA report says more than a third of these households “had very low food security — meaning that the food intake of one or more adults was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food”.


So why does a country that spends more on its military than the next 11 nations combined have so many people in such dire straits? How can so many be hungry in a country that has bought 185 F-22 stealth fighters at $361 million each?

The chief reason is that America is among the most unequal societies in the world; it is a country where the wealthy have a huge disconnect with ordinary folk. It is deeply disturbing to many but American leaders do not see the irony in doling out $700 billion to bail out New York’s rogue bankers while 40 percent of New Yorkers have problems affording food.

Unemployment is growing rapidly even as new jobs are not being created. Washington cites an unemployment rate of 9 percent, but if you include the number of Americans who have stopped looking for work or who are unemployable, then the real figure is 17 percent or 51 million out of work.


According to a USDA official, hunger is very much a hidden problem. “When you walk by people who may be hungry, it's not necessarily evident they're hungry. This is something that low-income people don't talk about a great deal.”

Worse, those who can help are looking the other way. What most people would describe as hunger, the USDA couches it in the euphemism “food insecure”. And deaths caused by malnutrition are passed off by hospitals and coroners as “natural causes” or “failure of bodily organs”.

The US has been loath to admit such gaping holes in its socio-economic fabric. A study titled The American Famine by Russian researcher Boris Borisov says that as many as 8 million Americans died of starvation during the Great Depression of the 1930s. This massive toll lies buried in US census data, but the government has airbrushed the data out of official records.

Here is what a child wrote during those years: “We changed our usual food for something more available. We used to eat bush leaves instead of cabbage. We ate frogs too. My mother and my older sister died in a year.”

During the Depression millions lost their homes and literally ended up in the streets. Today, foreclosures are again forcing people out of their homes.

As the recession deepens, poor Americans are not just competing with each other for food and resources. In the backdrop of declining incomes and rising unemployment in the US, keeping in step with 6.7 billion consumers in the global marketplace is going to be an extremely tall order.

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