[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am pleased and proud to announce today that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Nieman Fellow, Saul Friedman joins Time Goes By as a regular contributor. In his new, twice-monthly Reflections column, Saul will - well, reflect upon news, politics and social issues from his personal perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation.
In his long career, Saul covered some of the most crucial news stories of the 20th century which you can read about in his bio here. For the past dozen years, he has written the Gray Matters column at Newsday, which appears every Saturday. I know you will welcome him to our Time Goes By community.
I remember the precise moment I decided that, after ten years, I no longer wanted to cover the White House. The elder Bush was president and I waited for the noon briefing, ready to get my teeth into a good story.
The chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers was to boast of another month of growth, but that morning the Census Bureau had reported a rise in the number of people living in poverty. And I was ready to ask how come, and make a decent story about the contradiction and his answer. But I never got the chance.
The press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, announced the president would fly to Oakland, California, to inspect earthquake damage and return the same day. The TV reporters and crews went nuts, making arrangements for what was to be nothing more than a photo op. I never got a chance to ask my question and tell my readers why poverty grows amidst the plenty. Soon after I left the White House beat to cover substance–in foreign affairs.
Things have not changed. I checked and no one among the White House press has bothered to ask about a new report and why hunger still haunts this promised land. But then America has become so accustomed to doublespeak, that we even have a euphemism for hunger. So today a president would not say that millions in the nation are “ill-fed,” he or she would say they are “food insecure.” That’s government-speak for a national shame.
In the richest country on earth, where we’re spending $10 billion a month in Iraq, and $700 billion to rescue banks and brokers, more than 13 million Americans, including 730,000 older people and 700,000 children, struggled with hunger during 2007. And that was before this recession-cum-depression hit.
It’s bad enough that close to three-quarters of a million people over 65, many of whom live alone, have gone hungry during 2007. But even worse, at least that many of our grandchildren and millions of their parents, some of them our kids, suffer from not having enough to eat.
If you didn’t read much about this in the press, I’m not surprised. It was too busy playing who’s gonna be in the Obama cabinet guessing games. But the information was easily available and understandable in the Department of Agriculture’s annual report on food security.
Technically, the report said, “food security and insecurity...are based on respondent perceptions of whether the household was able to obtain enough food to meet their needs.”
The word hunger is sparingly used, because the Bush administration didn’t like it. As the report acknowledges in a footnote,
“…prior to 2006, households with low food security were described as ‘food insecure without hunger’ and households with very low food insecurity were described as ‘food insecure with hunger.’”
Now the word “hunger” has been removed and the categories are simply “low food security,” and “very low food security.” But it’s hunger by any other name, the awful, empty feeling in a household when a mother or father cannot give the children or the old people anything to eat.
As with any government report, it begins with the good news - about 89 percent of American households were “food secure” during 2007, meaning that all these household members “had access at all times to enough food for an active healthy life.” That’s not asking for much.
But is 89 percent such a big deal for this gilded age? That other 11 percent amounted to 13 million households that were
“…food insecure at some time during the year. That is, they were, at times uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money...for food.”
Thus, of the 117 million households surveyed, more than 8 million reported “low food security,” and 5 million reported “very low food security,” which means one or more household members were not getting enough to eat - going hungry - because they could not afford enough food. And in these households there were 691,000 children “with very low food security,” that is, going hungry.
The report’s authors surveyed these families. The report said that 98 percent of these households worried that their food would run out before they had money to buy more. Ninety-six percent reported skipping meals. Two-thirds reported they had been hungry but could not afford to buy more food.
One more revealing statistic: Hunger, or food insecurity, was in general decline during the late 1990s, when 10.5 million households were reported to be food insecure. There has been a steady increase since 2002, when the food secure households numbered 12.5 million, to more than 13 million in 2007. And the number of our children and grandchildren living with hunger, nearly 700,000, has grown by 50 percent since 1998.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gloria considers slowing down in a world where speed is king. Her story: Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk - Slowly.]