If you are new to the issue of hunger, or if you want to get a quick sense of the site’s general view on things, the below is a great place to start.
What is the scope of hunger in the USA?
According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap research, almost 49 million people experience hunger or food insecurity in the United States over the course of a given year. The total annual need for non-governmental food assistance in the U.S. is estimated to be about 10.6 billion pounds.
This is not a case of shortage, either of food overall, or of food that could be saved from going to waste by the charitable food system – as a nation we throw away more than ten times that much food every year.
What does ending hunger mean?
By “ending hunger” we mean ensuring that, whenever anyone experiences a time of needing food assistance, they can readily access timely, adequate, appropriate assistance sufficient to see them safely through that time of need.
In other words, our aim is not to prevent anyone from ever experiencing a time of need, but rather to ensure that experiencing such a time does as little harm as humanly possible to the people involved. We have “ended hunger” if there is no reasonable danger of someone actually going hungry due to economic or crisis circumstances.
Why not try to ensure that nobody ever experiences a time of need?
Building sustainable solutions to eliminate the need for emergency assistance is a super trendy angle for people in the nonprofit sector to take these days, but what that approach essentially boils down to is eliminating poverty. Assuming for the sake of argument that such a thing is in fact possible, there are still two major problems with turning too much focus to that approach:
- Such a major shift in our society will inevitably take a lot of time, if indeed it happens at all. By failing to address hunger in the meantime, we will have allowed a truly massive amount of preventable human suffering to occur.
- Hunger is a foundational problem – it is not only a symptom of poverty and crisis situations, but as a source of stress, distraction, and desperation, it also helps to produce and perpetuate them. It will be massively harder to move the needle on a lot of the things that need to be done to address poverty without taking adequate action against hunger first.
Doesn’t providing food assistance produce dependency?
The vast majority of people seeking food assistance do so for only a short time, because some situation or crisis has arisen in their lives (car trouble, job loss, a divorce, an accident, etc.) and thrown them for a loop. Food assistance has a critical role to play in helping to contain the situation, keeping families from having to choose between rent and food, food and medicine, food and credit card payments, and so on and so forth – choices that can easily transform a transient crisis into a financial death-spiral.
In other words, by providing food assistance at the right time, we enable people to “bounce-back” to self sufficiency much faster than they might otherwise.
Even in the cases of people who do wind up seeking food assistance on a long-term basis, receiving such assistance is a critical prerequisite to their ability to do the things that might ultimately lead them to self-sufficiency. As a wise man once said, “If you know where your family’s next meal is coming from, you can have many problems – but if not, you only have one.”
Shouldn’t the government be doing this?
Federal and state governments play a critical role in the fight against hunger via SNAP (food stamps), WIC, school meal programs, and other programs – what we are discussing here is filling the gap between what the government is doing and the total need.
There are some ideas floating around out there about how the government could effectively go the rest of the way on this issue – but no indications that such a thing is actually going to happen (nor any political consensus among the American people that it should).
If we want this problem to be solved anytime soon, “we the people” are going to have to do it ourselves – and the good news is that we can! The average community in the USA is probably spending close to enough resources on the problem of hunger to meet the need – if only those resources were to be used as effectively as possible.
Getting to that point, where communities across the nation can and do adequately address their hunger problems, is what this website is all about. (That said, if you want to work on getting your elected officials more involved in hunger issues, we have some ideas on how to get started.)
So what now?
And of course, everyone is welcome to check out our blog-style collection of stories and essays.