SubscribeSubscribe to this blog's feed
66 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"
Get ready. Next month Bread for the World and Concern Worldwide will team-up with other partners to celebrate the first 1,000 days of a global movement to make nutrition a key development goal. To update everyone on where our “Sustaining Political Commitments” event sits in “nutrition history,” we’ve put together an interactive timeline (above) that highlights some of the biggest moments since 2008. Use the side arrows to click through the slide-view, or click the "timeline" tab on the top left corner for a more linear perspective. Click on each event for videos, images, links, and a detailed description.
A lot has happened since September 2010, when developing countries founded the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and donors—led by the United States, Ireland, and the United Nations—launched the 1,000 Days call to action to support it. What started as the recommendations of a scholarly series in a British medical journal has morphed into a global partnership. To date, 35 countries with high rates of maternal and child malnutrition have joined SUN. The movement has grown rapidly as governments and civil society leaders increasingly recognize the irreversible damage that early childhood malnutrition can inflict on whole generations—and conversely, the tremendous return on national investment in preventing this damage.
The 2013 Hunger Report is chock-full of stories on maternal and child nutrition, stunting, the 1,000 Day window, and the SUN movement. It’s all related to our recommendation for a bull’s-eye goal of ending mass hunger and extreme poverty by 2040.
Download the report at www.hungerreport.org to get the full story on Bread for the World’s recommendations regarding nutrition in the first 1,000 days.
Posted by Bread on May 20, 2013 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Development Goals, Religion and Hunger, Trade, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Good news for data nerds: The OECD has just released its latest disposable income, poverty and inequality numbers for all of its 34 member states. You can access the entire data set here, but don't miss the the fun interacive tools that were released along with it. OECD was kind enought to make them embeddable:
So what are the key stories in this beautifully arranged chart? You may not find them all that surprising:
- Poverty and inequality have grown in OECD countries since the global recession of 2007-2008.
- The United States still has greater-than-average inequality and relative poverty than the typical OECD country.
- The United States has less pre-tax/transfer poverty than most other countries.
- The overall OECD unemployment rate has eased slightly to 8.0%.
- Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Denmark shared the lowest poverty rate of member countries, while Israel bore the highest at 21%.
This data release is well timed, just before the 39th G-8 summit to be held in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland between June 17-18. As member states gather to focus on shared global development goals like advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance, and promoting greater transparency, the OECD offers a humbling reminder that poverty, hunger, and inequality are on the rise across the developed world. A global committment to solving the poverty problem will require committment from all countries, regardless of income level. This is still everyone's problem.
Posted by Bread on May 16, 2013 in Asia, Assets for the Poor, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Report, Inequality, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Development Goals, Trade, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Developed and developing, north and south, rich and poor—these are some of the dichotomous terms we use to categorize a country's quality of life. Does any country, or any person, fit neatly into one category or another?
Increasingly, though, people are finding that development is more a continuum than an all-or-nothing condition, an up or down vote. Every country whether it’s been labeled “developed” or not, falls somewhere along that continuum. The 2013 Hunger Report acknowledged this point in its recommendation for continued universal ownership of goals after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. All countries face the same threats to their development to varying degrees.
The momentum behind this more inclusive way of looking at development and quality of life has been helped along by new concepts and tools. The old standards such as gross domestic product (GDP) or income per capita offer limited insight. Indices such as the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) point out the need for a more diverse set of indicators to complete the development picture, expanding it to include less obvious but equally important measurements like access to education, gender equality and greenhouse gas emissions.
Transparency is one of the more recent additions to the expanding development concept. It has only been a major priority of U.S. foreign assistance for a relatively short time. The Millennium Challenge Corporation only made “fighting corruption” an absolute requirement for funding recipients in 2002.
Short clip explains how Transparency International guages corruption and why it matters.
More recently, the push for open government has gained rapid momentum as citizens across the world discover promising new ways to track their leaders’ actions, their use of public resources, their campaign contributors, their vested interests in legislation, and more.
Organizations such as Transparency International and the Sunlight Foundation are leading a growing grassroots movement to open government data to public scrutiny. They’re ranking countries by degree of corruption, tracking political ad spending, and crowdsourcing to fill in missing information gaps. Perhaps most important, they’re collaborating internationally as they never have before. For example, Sunlight recently held its first Transparency Camp International, where members of civil society and government employees from 25 countries (of all income and “development” levels) gathered to join the global open government network and absorb the experiences and solutions of others.
The 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals, links open government and transparency to the end goal: good governance. “Improving governance is essential to progress on development,” it explains. “The corrosive effects of government corruption are just one example of how governance problems undermine progress. Good governance, on the other hand, is an enabling condition and a prerequisite to lasting change. Good governance includes many elements, but the most relevant for reducing poverty have to do with creating space for a strong civil society that can hold governments accountable for making progress; building effective institutions to manage and deliver public services; and respecting the rule of law—for example, by protecting the rights of minorities and ensuring that people have recourse to redress for injustices.”
“Most of the work to put these elements in place must be done by national governments and by civil society in developing countries. What the United States and other countries can do as a partner is set high expectations for levels of accountability and transparency. Additionally, they can provide technical know-how, strengthen global institutions that foster good governance, and support leaders who want to govern well. The United States itself must be an example of good governance and continue to work towards becoming more transparent and accountable.”
For more on the importance of transparency in the fight to end hunger, visit hungerreport.org.
Posted by Bread on May 13, 2013 in Africa, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Report, Inequality, Latin America, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Development Goals, Trade, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Hunger Report Senior Editor Todd Post is currently researching the 2014 Hunger Report, whose focus is “A Plan to End Hunger in America.” Here’s a story from his visit earlier this month to Eugene, OR:
In another city, this diner might be called a soup kitchen, a place where people who are homeless or living on very low income can go for a free or low-cost meal. But unlike most soup kitchens, the Family Dining Room in Eugene treats the people who come as though they are customers in a more conventional diner.
Diners are seated at tables by a hostess. There are flowers in vases on the tables and menus. A server comes by to take people’s orders. The meals are prepared in the kitchen by volunteer cooks. In fact, everyone who works at the diner is a volunteer. The effort is coordinated by Food for Lane County, the regional food bank located in Eugene.
The diner is open three or four nights each week and serves approximately 300 customers per night. When it first opened, it was serving as many as 475 people. The volunteers were exhausted, so they had to cut back on the number of meals served.
“The diner is the busiest restaurant in town,” Dawn Woodward tells me, which tells you a lot about Eugene, OR. Dawn works at Food for Lane County. More than 1 in 3 county residents is eligible for federal nutrition assistance. According to the 2012 Lane County Hunger Factors Assessment, at least 70 percent of all households worry at some point during the month about how they will get their next meal.
Another thing the diner tells us is how Eugene sees itself as a community. The diner’s slogan is “Brewing dignity with respect.” That’s the message Eugene wants to give to people who are poor, pushed to the margins of the community, and/or isolated by their shame over being poor.
We all know that being hungry or poor is heavily stigmatized in the United States – whether we have lived in poverty ourselves, seen others living this way, or simply heard the way people talk. Everyone wants to feed children since they are seen (correctly) as innocent. But our society seems to believe that on a person’s 18th birthday, hunger and poverty become his or her own fault. Their country and community no longer feel any responsibility -- to them or to any other hungry adult.
As you get closer to the households where hunger lurks, the role of communities becomes much more pronounced. I’ve been studying community responses to hunger, trying to understand why hunger is more contained in some communities than in others whose economic situation is similar or even better. I’ve come to realize that what communities do to reduce the stigma associated with asking for help is a big, big part of it.
So it is not just about offering help. It’s about changing the way help is offered. Communities may always have people living on the margins, but do they feel welcome in the center of town? People in Eugene and many other Oregon communities are taking seriously the idea of community food security – welcoming those who struggle to put food on the table back into the heart of the community. Of course, communities must have hearts for this to happen.
Food for Lane County also operates a summer feeding program.
Dawn Woodward shared a story about a little girl at one of the schools that
offers summer feeding. When Dawn mentioned the Family Dining Room in a passing
comment during a visit to the school, the little girl’s eyes lit up and she
said proudly that she loved going to the Family Dining Room; it was her favorite place
to eat. It’s likely that her parents, and others in similar situations, can
rarely if ever afford to take their child to any other restaurant. Giving
parents the opportunity to provide that meal to their daughter is so much more
meaningful than if the family had simply been given an equivalent amount of
It could be only a matter of days before the Senate introduces a historic immigration reform bill.
We’ve already heard about some of the major proposed reforms: a link between border security and a path to citizenship, new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers, and increased workplace enforcement.
Once the bill is introduced, there will likely be another front opened in the immigration reform debate – cost.
But almost absent from all these discussions is the potential impact of immigration reform on poverty. For centuries, immigration to the United States has provided a way for hungry and poor people to feed their families and, in time, thrive economically. Immigration could still play this role today -- but without a fair path to legalized status, unauthorized immigrants are blocked from most economic opportunities.
One result of Bread for the World’s efforts to raise awareness about how immigration reform can contribute to reducing poverty was the publication this week of an op-ed on the topic to the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.
As details of the Senate immigration reform bill emerge, Bread for the World will continue to highlight the historical and contemporary role of immigration as a poverty reduction tool.
Each year, the U.S. government spends $18 billion on improving its workforce, and most policy makers agree that it’s one of the best investments our country can make. Any job in this modern economy requires a unique set of skills commensurate with essential training or education. And of course, a more highly skilled workforce is a key prerequisite to economic growth. But those who have tried to evaluate the effectiveness of current federal workforce development programs — including the Government Accountability Office(GAO) — report that it is not easily measured. There are at least 47 such programs, many of which serve overlapping purposes and offer inconclusive, poorly documented results.
The House took its first stab at sweeping workforce program reform last month with the passage of the SKILLS Act. This measure, passed largely against the will of House Democrats and President Obama, would consolidate scattered funding pools into a single “Workforce Investment Fund” from which block grants would be issued directly to states to be dispersed and managed in accordance with their plans. A Democratic alternative was also proposed, prioritizing funding for community colleges, training for high-growth industries, and programs targeted at low-income people. Both plans promise to reduce administrative overhead, build in more rigorous evaluation, and bridge the gap between the unemployed and the 3.6 million unfilled job openings in the United States.
A better educated and skilled workforce is always a good idea, not just for broad-based economic growth, but because a better trained worker is an empowered worker—more capable of finding and keeping a job that pays enough to keep a family out of poverty.
Chapter 4 of the 2013 Hunger Report, With Reach: Global Development Goals, explores the role of the labor market in fighting poverty:
Most of the changes needed to reduce the poverty that now exists in the United States, as opposed to preventing poverty for the next generation, must take place in the labor market. Clearly, there’s a lot of scope for government to make mistakes while trying to correct problems in the labor market, and in the end, government power in this sphere is limited. However, there are also improvements that could be made now. These include raising the minimum wage, indexing the minimum wage to inflation, and ensuring labor rights such as the right to organize and join a union. (Congress and the president have already taken some encouraging actions toward making the minimum wage a living wage.)
Government has failed workers—both low-wage workers and those who were once relatively insulated from eroding purchasing power. The GDP of the country continues to rise, yet real wages are now stagnant even for people with bachelor’s degrees. The most severe effects of the increasingly skewed labor market fall on low-wage workers. The work low-wage workers do is needed, and always will be: janitors, food-service workers, landscapers, farm workers, and others. And the people who have these jobs will, of course, always need to earn a living.
Thus, one essential response is to ensure that all jobs pay enough to keep employees above the poverty line. Government must do more to counter the downward pressure on wages. Human-capital development must be strengthened so that even if some jobs are dead-end jobs, no one is trapped in them for lack of alternatives.
See the rest of Chapter 4 for more on U.S. workforce development and education.
Suburban Montgomery County, Maryland is not the kind of place you’d expect to find hunger. It is the 10 th richest county in America with a median income of almost $93,000 in 2011, and it also happens to be where I live.
Hunger exists in Montgomery County as it does in the 9 counties where the median income is even higher. I haven’t witnessed it everywhere myself, but working for Bread for the World Institute, I have access to this information and I talk to enough people who are working to reduce hunger in such places.
Rural and urban areas of the US have a higher share of people who experience hunger, but the suburbs are home to more of them in absolute numbers. Manna Food Center has been operating for 30 years, so hunger in the county is not a new phenomenon.
Hunger in suburban areas is largely hidden. Because it’s not supposed to happen here, the victims suffer more shame for their condition, which drives them out of plain view. At the symposium I was talking to a man who had recently lost his job and was getting food from Manna and using the SNAP program to feed his wife, himself and their three children. He was telling me that while at the bus stop in the morning, he saw two adults come walking out of a wooded area. Before he became impoverished, the sight of these people would not have registered with him. He now knows people who are living in those woods, homeless.
Since 1983, Manna has distributed 43 million pounds of food to 2.7 million residents of the county. Last year, Manna gave food to 41,000 households and worked with 50 partner agencies. You don’t have that kind of reach without the infrastructure to make it possible, and this includes a warehouse where food donations arrive daily, trucks dropping off food packages at delivery points around the county, and an army of staff and volunteers to make sure the system operates officially. Manna’s volunteers put in 52,000 hours of service last year.
Minnerva Delgado, Manna’s executive director, asked if I would speak at the symposium. When she called to offer a spot at the end to talk about advocacy, I had just finished reading an article called “The Problem with Food Banks” in the online journal Salon, and it seemed too weird a coincidence to resist, so I said sure. The article is about food banks in Canada, written by Nick Saul, a Canadian, and it reminded me of a book published in the US back in the early 90s. Sweet Charity, by Janet Poppendieck, is essential reading for anyone who is helping to feed the hungry in the US.
In the article, Saul expresses the same conflict Poppendieck described in Sweet Charity:
“Yet each time I visit such warehouses, I find myself alternating between hope and despair. Hope born of the understanding that all of this is motivated by the human urge to help others with that most basic of needs: food. Despair because this effort, and that of food banks all over Canada, has not solved the problem of hunger. On the contrary, I believe food banking makes it worse.
Worse—but how can that be? As he says,
“It is time to have a frank conversation about the limitations of this approach and start harnessing that caring and the engagement with food issues into a new political force. We need to ask ourselves and our elected representatives how we can make real, lasting change, and ensure that everyone finds health and dignity at our nation’s table.”
Sweet Charity came to much the same conclusion. I have written about Sweet Charity at different times for Bread for the World Institute. I decided to go back not only to what I’d written but to my notes about the book and I came across this passage in a review of the book by Larry Brown, the former director of the National Center on Hunger and Poverty at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“While charity feeds the poor, it also has become the basis for complacency. If the poor have food, they are no threat to the status quo. If volunteers feel they have done "something to help," they have little need to probe into the causes of hunger and the impact of charitable programs. And political leaders point to the "limits of government" and the effectiveness of "public-private partnerships" as the excuse for not using the apparatus of public policy to protect people from hunger as is done in other wealthy industrialized nations.”
The emphasis is mine. I thought what Brown had to say in the last sentence adds an important point to the statement above. Bread for the World has engaged with policymakers since the 1970s. Here we are in 2013, engaged again – fighting the same battles we fought before. It takes more than engagement.
It used to be that we could tell policymakers in the US, you know, other rich countries don’t have hunger like we have here. I’m not sure it had any effect, but was a reminder to ourselves at least that the US is an anomaly, and that any one of these days our policymakers could easily snap out of their indifference. Based on the news from up north, we probably underestimated the export potential of our indifference.
At the symposium, I congratulated my hosts on their 30 years of service. I exhorted them to keep up the good work, and like my predecessors in this endeavor, I urged them to take up advocacy regardless of how frustrating it seems.
Today, March 8, marks International Women’s Day. Readers of this blog, I suspect, almost automatically think of somewhere outside the United States—but it’s worth considering why International Women’s Day is relevant right here in our own country.
2013 is the anniversary of Betty Freidan’s celebrated manifesto The Feminine Mystique, turning 50 this year. 1963 was still a time when a book could create a seismic (and reverberating) shock in American culture. Like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which set off the U.S. environmental movement, The Feminine Mystique had a similar effect in launching the “second wave” women’s movement of the 1960s. The first was the battle for women’s suffrage, which was the issue 100 years ago.
Indeed, women have come a long way since the release of The Feminine Mystique, but probably no one is under any illusion that equality of the sexes has been reached. Sexism and racism are often spoken in one breath to convey that equality remains a work in progress. Consider the workplace. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man—much less if the woman belongs to a minority group. African American women earn about a dime less than white women, and Hispanic women another dime less than African American women.
The poorest women in the workforce still face some of the worst discrimination—and a lot of it is legal! For example, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers—mostly servers in restaurants—is $2.13 per hour. The tipped wage has been frozen at $2.13 for 21 years. More than two-thirds of tipped workers are women. Here’s a surprise: they experience poverty at almost three times the rate of the workforce as a whole.
In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is almost impossible to live on, but at least it reflects small increases in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Raising the minimum wage to $9.00 would help many workers, although a full-time minimum-wage worker with two children would still be living in poverty. (She would earn $18,720 a year, with the 2013 poverty threshold for a family of three set at $19,530). But raising the minimum wage would not help tipped workers, because they are in a “special category” exempt from minimum wage legislation.
Over the last 50 years, women have opened some doors that were closed before. There are more women who serve in Congress, run companies, lead universities, and head up nonprofits. Some are earning less than equally successful men, but at least at these salary levels, the gap is more galling than frightening. At the bottom of the labor market, however, earning 23 percent less than a male peer is the difference between being able to feed your kids for the whole month and going without food for the last week. That’s just one of the important reasons to consider how International Women’s Day applies to the United States rather than only to developing countries.
A Place at the Table, a new eye-opening documentary on hunger in America is set to launch nationwide this weekend. It will expose the reality of hunger in America through the lives of three people. Barbie, a young Philadelphia mother, fights to make ends meet and break the cycle of poverty. Rosie, an imaginative fifth-grader, tries to distract her mind from hunger pangs as she learns and grows in rural Colorado. And Tremonica, a sunny Mississippi second-grader, struggles with health problems caused by the poor nutritional value of the food that her mother can afford. Their stories reveal the depth of the hunger crisis in America and the factors that drive it.
You can find a theater near you to view the film here, or watch it instantly via itunes here. But before you see it, hear from the directors, Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson on how working on this film forever changed their view of hunger in America and its solutions:
Over the three years it took to make A Place at the Table, we met people who forever changed our understanding of what hunger in the United States looks like, why it exists, and how it can be fixed. Chief among them was Dr. Mariana Chilton, a Philadelphia physician and anti-hunger activist. Dr. Chilton handed out digital cameras to forty mothers in North Philadelphia and asked them to document their struggle to feed their families, then sent their pictures – stark and stunning – out into the world. This simple act had profound implications, giving the women a political identity as the Witnesses to Hunger, and a voice that has since become part of the national dialogue about hunger.
It was through Dr. Chilton that we met Barbie Izquierdo, a spirited single mother who relied on food stamps (SNAP) while searching for work. Her efforts, as well as her activism with the Witnesses to Hunger, led to a job at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. What should have been a happy ending, however, was anything but—Barbie’s new income was too high to qualify her for SNAP, but too low to provide adequate healthy food for her own children.
We had expected to find hunger in the inner cities, but were surprised to also find it in idyllic rural towns like Collbran, Colorado, a proud ranching community nestled in a valley of the Rocky Mountains. In the summer of 2010, virtually everyone in town was feeling the impact of food insecurity in some way. The local pastor explained that lately even two-income families were relying on his church’s weekly communal meal and after-school feeding program for kids. Even the town’s sole police officer frequented the church’s food pantry to make it through the month. A local teacher, Leslie Nichols, described how the shame of being a hungry kid still haunted her today; she channeled those difficult feelings into action by distributing bags of food to the families of her hungry students.
In Jonestown, Mississippi, a sultry Delta town of 2,000, we encountered a food desert; despite industrial agriculture all around them, the town’s residents were forced to travel great distances to buy fresh food –a true obstacle for those without access to transportation or sufficient income for gas. Fast food and packaged processed food, the building blocks of an unhealthy diet, were readily available. We couldn’t help but ask ourselves: why does a cheeseburger—whose multiple ingredients must be processed, cooked, packaged, marketed, and advertised—cost less than a fresh peach? The answer is so tightly wrapped up in government farm policy, political horse-trading in Congress, commercial interests, and misguided social planning that unraveling it is more than the media is generally willing to take on, and certainly more than the average voter is able to comprehend without help.
Americans are told we can’t afford to make school meals nutritious or expand the nutrition safety net enough so that everyone can eat. We’re told that charities need to fill the gap. Millions of ordinary Americans are being encouraged to donate cans of food and volunteer their time at food pantries, believing that these efforts will make a significant difference, but a food bank employee quietly confided to us that canned food drives and employee-volunteer days were more valuable for public relations than ending hunger.
Charity is important, but it’s not solving the underlying problem. In fact, it could be making it worse by allowing us to avoid asking the really hard question: Why, in a nation that has the means to feed everyone well and plentifully, are 49 million people not getting enough to eat?
Over the next two years we dared to imagine a system in which food banks become obsolete. If federal agricultural subsidies went toward fruits and vegetables rather than overproduced commodities, would that peach be cheaper than the cheeseburger? Could the substantial expertise of food bankers and community food activists be marshaled to help set up local and regional systems of delivery to food deserts? Could we explore community-based growing solutions through public funding rather than relying on the quixotic arm of charity? If we were to modernize the safety net and base it on the reality of need, would parents like Barbie be able to focus their energies on parenting, studying, and their family’s upward mobility rather than the draining and demoralizing daily quest for food?
Why can’t school meals be highly nutritious and free for all students, like textbooks, thereby erasing the stigma for the millions of kids who need government-subsidized meals? Maybe then young people like Rosie, a struggling 10 year old we met in Collbran, Colorado, would have the energy they need to learn. And why not let teachers like Leslie Nichols teach children about healthy food choices and preparation? If we can teach algebra, why not food smarts?
All these changes would cost money up front, but it seems clear that in the long term we’d recoup our investment in the form of decreased healthcare costs and greater productivity. Doesn’t society prosper when people are healthier and have the money to make real, healthful food choices, thus increasing demand for those items? With increased demand comes greater production, leading to lower prices. Lower prices for fresh food would benefit the very people who need it most.
The true cost of hunger is measured not in dollars but in human suffering and loss of human potential. We made A Place at the Table because we truly believe that when Americans are made aware of injustice in their own backyard, they will demand change from their leaders. When Americans equate ending hunger with patriotism, we know we will solve the problem of hunger in America once and for all.
Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson are co-directors of the documentary film A Place at the Table, about the shocking paradox of hunger in the wealthiest nation on earth, through the stories of three Americans who face food insecurity daily.
This article first appeared in the 2013 Hunger Report: Within Reach Global Development Goals. Read more from the report here.
Until recently, I knew little about Toledo, Ohio, beyond that it’s a Rust Belt city struggling to reinvent itself like so many others. One thing Rust Belt cities have in common is a shockingly high percentage of people struggling to put food on the table. According to the most recent data available, in 2011 Toledo’s child poverty rate was 43.7 percent. I’m sad to report that in the Rust Belt, even a statistic such as 43.7 percent of all children living in poverty doesn’t stand out as exceptionally high.
Since my visit to Toledo last week, though, I also think of the city as on the leading edge of anti-hunger policy at the local level. Toledo’s idea is to “rebrand” hunger as the health problem it is. The rebranding is designed not to replace the concept of hunger as a problem fundamentally rooted in poverty, but to help people in the community consider solutions that are part of health care rather than “welfare.”
At Bread for the World, it’s common to hear colleagues ask each other some version of the question “Why do Americans tolerate large numbers of people going hungry when this is a rich country?” One of the key answers is the way the problem is defined. If we talk about hunger only as an extension of poverty – even though this is true – it’s much easier to think of it as a personal problem that people need to solve themselves. It’s not society’s responsibility. The results can be seen in ordinary conversation: while many people consider it perfectly acceptable to excoriate “welfare recipients,” it’s almost never okay to make similar derogatory remarks about patients with chronic health problems.
I once asked a doctor why she thought there is so little stigma attached to WIC (which provides extra nutrition for infants and young children) compared to SNAP (food stamps). She believes it’s because WIC includes health care checkups, leading the mothers who participate to see it as something completely different from “charity” or “welfare.” The public views it differently as well.
The largest healthcare provider in Toledo, ProMedica, is leading the effort to rebrand hunger. ProMedica is a partner in the Hunger Free Communities Network, a nationwide platform for coalitions, campaigns, and collaborations committed to ending hunger in their localities. Once a year, the network holds a summit in Washington, DC, so its members can learn from each other and share their knowledge and experience. The next summit will take place this Saturday, March 2.
ProMedica provides comprehensive healthcare services in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. It also happens to be the largest employer in the Toledo region—so it has a certain amount of clout with policymakers. In fact, my first scheduled meeting with ProMedica had to be postponed because the governor of Ohio, on the eve of his State of the State address, turned to the organization for information to include. This type of credibility will be important to Toledo’s success in changing the way people think about hunger.
ProMedica is bent on getting the governor, mayors around the region, and Ohio’s members of Congress to understand the impact of hunger on health outcomes and on healthcare costs – and therefore, why ending hunger should be one of their top priorities. As an economic engine in the community, ProMedica can not only explain why an undernourished workforce is a less productive workforce, but also speak knowledgably about the damage done to economic development.
ProMedica realizes that part of what it must do is to educate its own employees. I got to watch a presentation to hospital staff on how to recognize symptoms that could stem from hunger and how to screen patients on food and nutrition issues. ProMedica’s work is just beginning, so it’s too early to draw conclusions about its effects on reducing hunger in the community, but the initiative has already captured the attention of national leaders. This fall, ProMedica plans to co-convene a national conference on “hunger as a healthcare issue” with the Alliance to End Hunger, an affiliate of Bread for the World and the Institute. Healthcare providers from around the nation will be invited; ProMedica hopes that others may follow its lead.