8 Myths About Hunger

There is a stark contrast between the widely held myths and realities about hunger.


Hunger exists because there is not enough food.


The best adjective to accurately describe the amount of food available in the United States is abundant. Hunger affects 1 out of every 8 American men, women and children and persists in this country not because of a lack of food, but because we lack the political will to end the problem by ensuring that vulnerable people have equal access to nutritious food. 


It’s better for local charities, not the government, to feed people.


Charitable organizations – including MAZON’s nationwide partners on the front lines – are not set up to feed every hungry person in their community. Food pantries and soup kitchens were created to provide support during temporary or emergency situations, not to solve systemic problems. Many 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. 


Government programs enable lazy people to live well on society’s dime.


As the nation’s economic recovery continues, government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps) provide a vital lifeline that helps people receive the sustenance they need to get back on their feet. 40% of households receiving SNAP benefits include at least one working person. The average benefit provided by SNAP equates to roughly $1.40 per person per meal - hardly an extravagant amount, and certainly not enough to do anything beyond simply get by. 


You can't be overweight and be food insecure.


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 - or what is available in their community - is unhealthy and processed, with low nutritional value. They also tend to have higher levels of stress 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.


There is no hunger in the military.


The Department of Defense neither tracks the number of military households that struggle with food insecurity nor acknowledges that such a problem exists. And yet, we know that every Marine and Naval military base in the country (and possibly Army and Air Force too) allows charities to host regular food distributions to assist struggling active duty military families, and food pantries that serve communities in close proximity to military installations report a significant rise in recent years in the number of military families seeking emergency food boxes.


Seniors receive all the support they need.


1 out of 7 seniors lives in poverty and 5.4 million seniors struggle with food insecurity. Despite this harsh reality, 60% of seniors who are eligible for support from government programs such as SNAP do not receive these vital benefits. Multiple challenges stand in their way, including lack of awareness of program eligibility, a complicated and seemingly intrusive application process, social and geographic isolation, and fear of stigma from needing help.


SNAP is rife with waste, fraud and abuse.


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%. 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. 


Hunger can be a positive motivator.


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 negtively 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.