September 6, 2010

First Steps: Taking Care of Our House pt. 1

We are all gung-ho about doing our part to create a better world. But how can a nation wholeheartedly get into the necessary mindset, when it cannot take care of its own citizenry. The first major problem are the basics to survival: Food, Clothing and Shelter. Today I will talk about Hunger in America.

The Current State of Things:
Hunger is defined as the pain or uneasy sensation caused by the lack of food. Most, when referring to hunger in America, mean: "the ability of people to obtain sufficient food for their household. Some people may find themselves skipping meals or cutting back on the quality or quantity of food they purchase at the stores. This recurring and involuntary lack of access to food can lead to malnutrition over time.¹" The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that in 2008 there were 49.1 million Americans living in food insecure households. More disturbingly, 14% of adults and 23% of children in the United States will go hungry at some point in their lives. More specifically, in your circle of ten closest friends, one of them will go hungry at some time. On top of that, due to the social shame and stigma associated with the inability to provide for one's self and family many people will not ask for help when they need it.

Malnutrition in other countries, third and second world, has obvious and pronounced symptoms. The inflammation of the eyelids, withering of muscle tissue, xerosis of the skin and bloating of the stomach cavity scream malnutrition; but in a first world country the signs are not as obvious. The mental and physical changes that accompany inadequate food intakes can have harmful effects on learning, development, productivity, physical and psychological health, and family life. The ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life is the most basic of human needs; and it has gone overlooked by mainstream society for too long. A high number of food insecure households in a nation with our economic plenty means that the benefits of our economy, and the variety of public and private programs for needy people, are not yet reaching millions of low-income people who are at great risk of succumbing to malnutrition.

The Current Solution:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA for the rest of this post), the United States produces 100 billion dollars in crops and another 100 billion in livestock each year². According to a 2004 study, by the University of Arizona Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, between forty and fifty percent of food prepared in the United States is thrown away. Be it directly from harvest to preparation; the study also showed that the vast majority of it was perfectly fine to eat. On top of that, with just a few corrections to the document depreciation could save both consumers and manufacturers billions of dollars a year³. According to a local source, employed with a nationwide restaurant chain, at least 60 pounds of edible food is thrown out each night at close; this is after the employees fill their bags with what they wanted and could store conveniently at home. This practice, multiplied for every restaurant in a town results in tons of food waste for a moderately sized city. Across the entire country, the numbers are almost unfathomable.

Though it is worth noting that there are some restaurants and chains that actively donate to food banks and charities to help reduce the numbers of hungry people around the country. To name a few: Red Lobster, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and The Capital Grille, to name a few. (A complete list is available at Who Donates). The National Restaurant Association has partnered with the Food Donation Connection, a liaison between the food service companies interested in donating leftover food and the social service agencies that provide feeding programs for people at risk of hunger.

Other organizations, like Feeding America and the Society of St. Andrew, take a more active approach to solving our national hunger crisis. Feeding America published: Hunger Report 2010 which is, thus far, the largest study of domestic hunger with statistically valid data collected through thousands of interviews and even more surveys. Feeding America provides food to 37 million Americans; one in every eight Americans relies on Feeding America's programs for food or groceries. Surprisingly, 36% of households in the program have at least one person working. Also one third of surveyed families admit to having to choose between quality food and other expenses including, but not limited to: electricity, rent and medical care.

But a few organization doing millions of dollars worth of work is not enough. And that is where government projects come into play. Projects like FNS's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Food Distribution Program are currently in place to assist citizens in meeting their dietary needs. But the government programs were never designed to rescue families from the grips of hunger, only to temporarily alleviate the symptoms.

These programs were first thought of by Henry Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture, in the late 30s and early 40s when the grip of the Great Depression was finally loosening. The program initially had people buy discounted stamps to purchase surplus food at the expense of the government, ultimately the tax payers. Thus allowing families to allocate less of their budget and get the same quality of food. The program ended in 1943, "since the conditions that brought the program into being--unmarketable food surpluses and widespread unemployment--no longer existed."

In 1964 President Johnson requested legislation passed that would make the FSP a permanent institution. H.R. 10222, introduced by Congresswoman Leonor Sullivan with the following main points:
  • the requirement that recipients purchase their food stamps, paying an amount commensurate with their normal expenditures for food and receiving an amount of food stamps representing an opportunity more nearly to obtain a low-cost nutritionally adequate diet
  • the eligibility for purchase with food stamps of all items intended for human consumption except alcoholic beverages and imported foods
  • prohibitions against discrimination on bases of race, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs
Since then, the program has expanded into an multi-headed beast, that some say is completely out of control. Standing in line at 7-11 to pay for gas this afternoon, I learned that food stamps could be used to pay for Slushes and other nonfood items available at the convenient store. Also, according to the Daily Caller, universities (in an attempt to lower costs) are encouraging students to apply for SNAP, no matter their socioeconomic background or means.

This needs to change.

Possible Future Solutions:
For the immediate future I believe that there are a few things that need to be revamped, most importantly the regulations on food safety and distribution, our individual perspective on food consumption and waste and the SNAP program.

While the regulations that are determined by the FDA, USDA and the World Health Organization (WHO) are designed for our safety, they unfortunately lead to tremendous waste. Stores and restaurants, afraid to be found in violation of health codes throw away perfectly good food, and in almost every case are unable to donate due to another health code. The Food Safety and Inspection Service currently only have 7,800 personnel working in 6,200 federally inspected establishments. Expansion of that service would not only provided needed employment, but could help alleviate waste. A sub-department of the FSIS could be assigned to train individuals in the food service industry in identifying donateable food. With the proper preservation techniques, waste food could turn into luxury meals for those that would otherwise go hungry.

In my opinion, the most important step is an introspective one. Once we as a society can individually come to terms with our waste, can we truly find ways to help identify where inefficiency can be removed. If we budget a certain percentage of our income to food, and shop accordingly to our actually usage, then not only can we reduce our household food waste but we can save much needed money. Money that can be reinvested into becoming more efficient in other areas. Also, if every other week, some luxury food items (e.g., ice cream, chips and soda) were not purchased, over time the resources used to produce them could be redirected to more necessary items. Recognizing that we make more than we need can also have great charitable benefits; if i know that I always make 2 servings more than my family can eat, than I can either reduce the recipe or package the food for re-consumption or donation; two servings extra, for the two main meals of the day, could feed four hungry people.


SNAP definitely needs work, but not just a fresh coat of paint. For the short term, it needs to change its rules on how to apply and qualify for benefits. It also needs to start gravitating back towards its original intention: to provide nutritious, quality, food, regularly. SNAP should be a helping hand, and not a crutch, and should involve employment/ promotion programs to help families on SNAP find either first time employment, or better employment so that others can benefit from the program without overwhelming the system. SNAP should only be used to purchase items readily found in the USDA's revised food pyramid. Luxury items should be expanded to include microwaved meals, which lack substantial nutritional value (due to the tremendous water loss occurring during the microwave heating process) and other items found in the yellow slice of the food pyramid.

Ultimately I could see society embracing a more elaborate and Utopian version of SNAP. Every citizen will be provided a Household Expense Card (which will be mentioned in more detail in later posts), based on Census data and constantly recalculated mathematical formula collected from statistical information on the American population. Each Household Expense Card will have an allotted amount of money to be used for grocery shopping; the exact allotment will be based on family size, height and weight, and age. A young family of two, who are of average height and weight will receive less than a family of four with two teen aged children. But they will be able to purchase enough well balanced and nutritional food with the card. All cards will be funded with tax dollars (tax system will of course be reworked, also mentioned in more detail in later posts), so all tax payers will receive a card, regardless of their tax bracket.

The cards will come with the option of a balance and unique monthly menu plan, which citizens can edit depending on their preferences, via the systems website. For example, if I put in that I enjoy pastas more than rice, spinach over broccoli and chicken over beef, it will suggest a monthly meal plan, based on my nutritional needs and allotted budget. Everything purchased within this budget will be covered by the cards. Luxury items will be paid for out of pocket.

Some would say that this provides no personal freedom, but I disagree. This is a voluntary program which is designed to help all families better spend money on food. It also gives all people an equal opportunity to enjoy healthy and nutritious food. Others would say that it will put companies out of business, the lack of "free" business would eventually drive them to bankruptcy. But people will still spend money on luxury items; and the companies can redesign their products to fall into the government regulations.

It is a preliminary design, with flaws, but it is a step in the right direction. I value your input . The future can and will be bright. Let us illuminate it together.

Find out for yourself at:

27 comments:

  1. Nice, interesting blog, mate.

    Check mine out at http://spandexwolf.blogspot.com/

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  2. nice stuff man very cool id like to read more of ur posts

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  3. tl;dr

    Is this gonna be some activist blog or something?

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  4. nice layout. looks all professional and junk. someone was good at dioramas in middle school

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  5. nice read, follow me back. you know what to do.

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  6. @Spandex, i've been following you for a while now
    @stankbomb i'm here for my brothers and sisters, let them know how i think
    @JQ not really activism, just a place to post opinions and beliefs. hopefully influence people to make positive changes
    @MorningDips i actually really sucked at them
    @Dilly Skates thank you, let everyone know. i'll try to keep them coming

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  7. Holy.. that was long. Gonna finish reading this some other day :)

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  8. amazing content, really makes you. go freegan!

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  9. good read full of usefull stuff thx man

    following for upcoming posts :)

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  10. Current state of things.. PA will start taxing their bloggers. Enjoy.

    http://88iroc383.blogspot.com/

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  11. @Caroline I really appreciate that coming from you. I'd love to be a writer some day. we'll see

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  12. Supportin! Check out some wallpapers:

    http://the-state-of-human-intelligence.blogspot.com/

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  13. I just learned something new today... thanks!

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  14. just showing some love :)

    mitsuruchan12.blogspot.com

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  15. Truly food for thought--it's often so easy to live globally in our media-driven culture, but so easy to remember that people do truly starve on our streets, that even in this time of plenty, there is want, and there are needs going unfulfilled.

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  16. @WolfSprout: that's the point
    @Artful Disarray: i disagree with the last part of your comment, i like your drawings. and yes, its easy to forget that some people are starving right now

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  17. This is a thoroughly comprehensive and fascinating post, in a thoroughly comprehensive and fascinating blog. I am now earnestly following you.

    I have a blog as well, which can follow if you're interested. It's the life story of a badass, modern Pecos-Bill-type character told in daily vignettes. I'm looking for actual readers, rather than just clickers/supporters, so if anyone's interested, feel free to take a look. =)

    http://tornadojackson.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete