I just read a super interesting article (find it here) in the New York Times about the obesity (and hunger) problem in the United States. The article describes a scene in the movie Precious. The protagonist in the film is obese, but she is also hungry (or as it’s used in official surveys-food insecure). In one scene she steals a bucket of fried chicken- for breakfast- and wolfs it down in desperation. Precious is obese AND hungry, but why?
“Hunger and obesity are often flip sides of the same malnutrition coin” Joel Berg from New York City Coalition against Hunger says. The explanation for this is of course that hunger is a symptom of poverty, but as we know, so is obesity. When you are hungry and you live in poverty you 1) want to fill your belly 2) are likely to be busy, work multiple jobs, and need to eat quickly and on the go 3) don’t usually live in neighborhoods that have appropriately priced healthy foods.
This article focuses on the South Bronx, but obviously this problem exists all over the country- like close to home in Detroit. Supermarkets (the VERY few that even exist) in Detroit have more processed foods, and less fresh fruits and vegetables (which are way more expensive) than supermarkets in the wealthier suburbs. On top of that there is definitely no lack of processed foods in liquor stores (which there are more of then supermarkets) and fast food restaurants. If someone is hungry they’re unlikely to choose and apple that they have to pay $1 or more for, and are more likely to buy something of the dollar menu at the golden arches.
SO what to do? Where to start? I think I saw some positive efforts regarding this problem when I was living in DC over the summer. There, people could use their food stamps at a few of the many farmer’s markets (below is an article I wrote for the weekly newsletter at the organization I worked at over the summer about this topic). NY Mayor Bloomberg’s administration is also using this model. For every $5 spend at a farmer’s market with food stamps, residents get an extra $2 to spend there. So, here is money that you can’t spend at McDonalds, but you could spend at a farmer’s market and even get some monetary benefits. This is a good start, but it’s only the beginning. This model opens up the options a little for those who usually lack choices. The important thing is that farmer’s markets open up in poorer neighborhoods, and not just in the trendy ones. Farmer’s markets could really empower the community.
I think the most important thing I took from this article is that hunger is no longer the skinny child with it’s ribs showing, living in squalor in some rural area. Its not a concave belly, or a child that has to go to bed hungry every night. It’s someone like Precious, who eats a bucket of fried chicken out of desperation because really, what other choice does she have?