8 myths about hunger in America
There is a stark contrast between the widely held myths and realities about hunger.
Myth 1: Hunger exists because there is not enough food.
Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced globally to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day – that’s 75 percent more calories per person than are recommended in the USDA’s Nutritional Guidelines. Hunger persists in this country not because of a lack of food, but an absence of political will to solve the problem.
Hunger persists in this country not because of a lack of food, but an absence of political will to solve the problem.
Myth 2: It’s better for local charities to feed people, not the government.
Reality: Charitable organizations – including MAZON’s nationwide partners on the front lines – were not designed to feed their entire communities. Instead, these food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens were created to solve what were thought to be temporary or emergency situations, not systemic problems.
Most are open only a few days a week, and for a few hours of each day. They are largely volunteer run, often out of basements or closets at their local houses of worship and they primarily distribute food that has been donated from within their communities. They simply could never have the capacity to feed the number of people who need help.
Myth 3: Government programs enable lazy people to live well on society’s dime.
Reality: Receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) hardly enables anyone to live well. The average benefit equates to roughly $1.40 per person per meal. And in most cases, the money runs out before the month ends – typically after only three weeks – forcing families to rely on charity to eat. Government programs like SNAP are designed to ensure that people receive the sustenance they need so they can contribute back to society and get off these programs. How productive could we expect anyone to be if they haven’t eaten for days or weeks or longer?
Government programs like SNAP are designed to ensure that people receive the sustenance they need so they can contribute back to society and get off these programs.
Myth 4: Hunger is only a big city problem.
Reality: When many people think about where people might be going hungry, they often envision a city where the disparity between those who have and those who don’t is blatantly evident. Certainly, food insecurity exists in those cities, but every day we hear about the growing number of challenges that afflict suburban, rural and remote areas of the country. And alleviating hunger in these areas can be much harder to do than in the cities, because those communities often have fewer opportunities to obtain needed resources and lack a sufficient transportation infrastructure to support food distribution.
Myth 5: You can’t be overweight and be food insecure.
Reality: Many people believe that hungry people always look thin and emaciated; however, a growing body of research shows a startling correlation between obesity and hunger. The simple fact is this: people living in poverty cannot afford enough food, and often, what little food they can afford is unhealthy and processed, with low nutritional value. They also tend to have far more limited access to healthy and affordable foods in their communities and reduced opportunities for physical activity. It is the convergence of all these factors that has exacerbated the obesity epidemic among those who are, in fact, hungry.
The simple fact is this: people living in poverty cannot afford enough food, and often, what little food they can afford is unhealthy and processed, with low nutritional value.
Myth 6: People on SNAP just need to get a job.
Reality: SNAP provides a vital lifeline so that people and their families can eat while they search for work. In fact, this important and effective program is designed to expand and contract in relation to unemployment – in other words, for caseloads to rise as unemployment rises and fall as the economy recovers. 40 percent of households receiving SNAP benefits have at least one working person.
Myth 7: SNAP is rife with waste, fraud and abuse.
Reality: SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program. States must conduct regular “quality control” reviews of SNAP case files to ensure that benefits are accurately distributed. And ongoing improvements to regulate the program have kept fraud and abuse to a historic low of less than 2 percent. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients follow the rules because they desperately need help ensuring their family has food to eat.
In both the short and long-term, having a substantial population of hungry people – be they adults or children – impedes the country’s economic prosperity for everyone.
Myth 8: “Hunger can be a positive motivator”- Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-MO)
Reality: There is no doubt that hungry people would rather not be hungry and may try to do everything they can to avoid it in the future. But that same hunger also hinders their ability to take such action. Being hungry can be all-consuming and distracting, which in turn decreases productivity in working adults and negatively impacts unemployed people’s ability to get jobs. And for children, chronic hunger has devastating effects, impacting their physical development and making it nearly impossible to learn. In both the short and long-term, having a substantial population of hungry people – be they adults or children – impedes the country’s economic prosperity for everyone.