Friday, November 17, 2006


“Low food security”

In the "What's in a name?" category, we have a report in the Washington Post that tells us of a new USDA policy:

Every year, the Agriculture Department issues a report that measures Americans' access to food, and it has consistently used the word "hunger" to describe those who can least afford to put food on the table. But not this year.

Mark Nord, the lead author of the report, said "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey." Nord, a USDA sociologist, said, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans — 35 million people — could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined "very low food security" to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.

OK, now, I'm really not a fan of form over substance, nor of "fixing" things that aren't broken. I can't think that anyone really objected to using the term "hungry", and we all know what that means. "Very low food security" is just bureaucratic nonsense. Work on fixing the problem, not on changing the nomenclature.

Anti-hunger advocates say the new words sugarcoat a national shame. "The proposal to remove the word 'hunger' from our official reports is a huge disservice to the millions of Americans who struggle daily to feed themselves and their families," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy group. "We [...] cannot hide the reality of hunger among our citizens."
Too right!

And the barriers to dealing with the problem come right from the top. I've heard people I know claim that there's no "real" poverty in America. But you'd think the executives that run our states and our country would be more aware. You'd be wrong:

That 35 million people in this wealthy nation feel insecure about their next meal can be hard to believe, even in the highest circles. In 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then running for president, said he thought the annual USDA report — which consistently finds his home state one of the hungriest in the nation — was fabricated. "I'm sure there are some people in my state who are hungry," Bush said. "I don't believe 5 percent are hungry." Bush said he believed that the statistics were aimed at his candidacy. "Yeah, I'm surprised a report floats out of Washington when I'm running a presidential campaign," he said.
But now, it seems, Texas will no longer be one of the "hungriest" states. It will now be among the lowest in food security. That's not nearly as alarming, is it? Someone with the mental capacity of The Bush could easily brush that off. "Security? Yeah, that's OK, we're dealing with security."

This report also reminds me of a "study" that was done some 15 years ago (sorry; I don't have a reference). According to the news report I heard about it, it studied hunger among children in America. Its goal was to determine the principal causes, and what it found was that the main cause of hunger among children is... are you ready for this?... "poverty".

As we keep pumping billions of dollars every month into our military machine it's easy to forget that very obvious conclusion. Let's get back to our basic needs, and make sure that every American is fed, clothed, housed, and has health care.

That is where the money needs to go, not into building more bombs, and not into the salary of someone who spends his time figuring out a different way to talk about it.


The Ridger, FCD said...

This is repulsive in the extreme. Talking about people with low food security is another way to make it go away. If they just want to avoid the "but are they really hungry?" debate, why don't they relabel them "people who can't afford to buy food"?

Corey said...

But I don't think we all agree that we would rather spend money on feeding poor people than blowing things up in foreign countries who don't want us there. I don't think that's a given, unfortunately...

Dr. Momentum said...

"Hungry" has the benefit of conveying a sense of urgency and is something that people can relate to on a (no pun intended) gut level.

On the other hand, "hungry" is somewhat trivial to people who have access to food. To them "hungry" is a temporary thing. I can understand someone thinking that a new term is needed which conveys a larger problem than the kind of thing many people solve by getting a quick snack.

But that they replaced it with "low food security" is ridiculous. It sounds as though someone felt a new term needed to be invented, and they decided by committee.

It would be good to have a term that conveyed both the urgency and the scope of the problem. But this ain't it.

I rather doubt people objected to "hungry." I imagine that they had more important things to worry about, and that this was, as you suggest, bureaucratically motivated.