Food, food everywhere and not a bite to eat.
Okay, so that’s not exactly the way Coleridge wrote it in the Rime of Ancient Mariner. Nevertheless, that is the first thing that came to my mind as I read the really interesting article in the most recent issue (August 2014) of National Geographic magazine. The article’s title is “The New Face of Hunger.”
The basic premise is that people are starving to death in cities because they do not have access to nutritious food. Although these people have subsidies or assistance, the food they receive is highly processed. They live in cities where a fast food restaurant sits on every corner, but there are no grocery stores.
I agree with their analysis of the problem, one that I have been talking about for a long time and preached more than one sermon about it. People are starving to death with food everywhere because we have created a system of incompetence.
You read that correctly. The problem of hunger is not primarily an economic one, it is an competency problem, and the longer I live the more I am convinced that incompetency will the end of our way of life.
The solution to hunger must have a two handed approach, because the situation is serious and something must be done to fix the problem before it is too late. The bad news is that it will take at least one, and probably two generations to do it.
1. We must feed children. I don’t care what other problems are involved, we can’t let children be truly hungry. Therefore, programs for food through schools and weekend programs should be fully funded without political wrangling. However, these programs should also include two other aspects. One, instead of highly processed food perhaps we should use vegetables, fresh food, and local dairy. It will cost more to do this in the short run, but it will pay dividends in the long run with healthier children (and a healthy future) and a supported local agriculture.
A second requirement should be the total, universal enforcement of culinary training at the high school level. We used to call this home ec, and we all made fun of it, but we were all taught how to scramble an egg, boil a noodle, peel a potato, make a salad, cut a chicken up to fry, and how to shop. These skills are almost absent in most children today and their parents, and that leads me to the second hand we have to use in solving our food problem.
2. Food subsidies should be increased in dollar amount, but limited to the purchase of ingredients for home cooked meals instead of whatever highly processed food is on the shelf. Flour, milk, eggs, noodles, lettuce, frozen veggies, raw meat, rice, vinegar, oil, butter, and so many other items are what I have in mind. It should be forbidden for these individuals to use government subsidies (SNAP, food stamps) for convenience store foods, burritos in a package, sugary cereals, heat-n-heat meals, or potato chips. I would even support increasing exponentially food subsidy amounts if purchases were made at farmers markets. These should likewise be given only as an adjunct to mandatory basic culinary classes.
We have a competency problem in our country–people don’t know how to cook. What they often call cooking is really just microwaving. We would be a healthier, and more economically prosperous people if we would turn the television off and put down the iPhone long enough to spend the 25-30 minutes it takes to cook a meal at home from scratch. A pot of pinto beans can feed a family for two or three days, and it is cheaper than feeding one person supper at McDonalds (and that is if I put a little hamburger meat in it, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and some brown sugar to sweet the beans). The problem is that people don’t how to cook because they are never been told. It was an assumed skill, that can no longer be assumed.
If we don’t fix this problem soon, increasing numbers of Americans will go to bed hungry, all the while surrounded by the greatest abundance the world has ever seen.
BONUS–for an interesting article on SNAP purchases, read this article (click here). Make sure and read some of the comments as people completely miss the point. Under no circumstances should soda be a government subsidized purchase.