A 2014 article from National Geographic gives a brief history of the USDA’s shift from screaming “hungry” to hawking the more politically palatable and marketable description of “food insecurity.”
In 2006 the USDA traded the term “hunger” for “food insecurity,” shifting the focus from people who were literally without food to people who subjectively rated themselves as not eating what they wanted to eat or not having their desired level of access to enough food. Researchers had traditionally measured hunger through physical symptoms, like stunted growth and being underweight. To determine the new underclass of “hungry,” politically-motivated policy writers began asking Americans whether they were ever actually hungry: Had they missed meals, worried about running out of food, or gone to bed hungry? National Geographic even referred to this newfangled food insecurity as a “startling new picture of hunger in America.”
Today’s targets for federal redistribution programs are no longer the “skinny, starving” children who were the beneficiaries of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” – they are suburban families basking in credit cards and SUVs; iPhone-clad city folks wheeling around in new cars and designer gym shoes; and middle class college students in 4-year programs at major universities. A quote from the article:
Measuring food insecurity rather than hunger has led to a startling new picture of America, says Janet Poppendieck, a sociologist at Hunter College whose recently re-released Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat explores the link between hunger and agricultural policy.
When it comes to America’s hungry, says Poppendieck, “they’re not hungry all the time; they just can’t count on not being hungry.”
A USDA Economic Research Report from 2014 on food insecurity blames unemployment; the fact that the minimum wage has not been properly adjusted for inflation; and low participation in government-funded nutrition programs. Questions determining one’s level of food insecurity include the following:
- In the last 12 months, did you or other adults in the household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
- In the last 12 months, did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn’t enough money for food?
The questions, of course, are all wide open for slicing and dicing neatly into categories that ignore subjective choice, entitlement mindset, accountability, and time preference orientation (priorities). If you wanted two Big Macs, an extra large order of fries, an apple pie, and a large shake, but all you could afford was a 1/4 pound burger and a small fry, you are deemed food insecure and you are therefore entitled to be made secure via federal food security policy.
These so-called “food insecure” people are said to be “struggling” to put food on the table, when in fact they are consumers of convenience who are reliant upon fast foods and processed, industrial-convenience foods that have taken over the majority of space in grocery stores. In addition, they are driven by high time preferences – preferring the instant gratification of status-things, entertainment, and amusement, as opposed to nutritional priorities and a longer-term outlook on health and quality of life.
Jim Bovard recently published an article in USA Today noting that federal food aid has never boosted nutrition, but instead welfare programs serve as a conduit for the poor and middle class to more easily obtain more of the nutritionally-deficient, convenience foods that easily make food aid recipients the most obese among Americans.
But of course, when the political ruling class recognizes that an old measure no longer creates the entitlement class of “poverty” and “hungry,” it’s time to change up the rules so that an entire dependent constituency is not lost.