Hunger in America

When the words "hunger" and "starvation" are mentioned, most of us tend to think of developing countries. Indeed, according to the World Food Programme, of the nearly billion people going to bed hungry tonight, 98 percent of them live in developing countries. But the problem of hunger is closely tied to poverty, and there is no shortage of suffering here. Hunger in America is a growing problem.

In 2010, 49 million Americans, 16 million of them children, were unable to get enough food on a regular basis, according to the USDA's 2010 report, Household Food Security in the United States. This means food insecurity for about one in six people–and about one in four children–at least some of the time. A food secure household is one that has access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for the entire family. We have the highest recorded level of food insecurity since 1995, when the first national food security survey was conducted.

The problem of hunger is especially critical for children. Children who go hungry are less healthy and more susceptible to learning difficulties and behavioral and emotional problems than children who have enough to eat.

Single working mothers bear a larger hunger load than average. Many work in low-paying jobs and must choose between food, rent, gas for the car, health care, or clothing for their children. "Millions of American women who face this predicament will feed their children and go without meals themselves," concludes the USDA.

America's seniors are making difficult choices, too, often between food, medicine, and utilities. In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone were food insecure. A recent report by Meals on Wheels estimates that as many as 8.8 million seniors face the prospect of not getting enough food. Hunger rates have more than doubled in recent years for poor seniors, and the problem is not improving for this, the fastest growing population sector.

In fact, things are not improving for any group, though in the U.S. the number of people who went hungry last year remained stable. Federal officials attribute this to an increase in food aid, which will decrease if food aid budgets are cut as part of deficit reduction measures. In their Hunger Study 2010, Feeding America reported they now provide food to 37 million Americans, an increase of 46 percent over 2006, when they fed 25 million Americans. One in eight Americans now relies on Feeding America for food. As poverty grows, so does food insecurity. In poor areas, many don't have the money to buy food or the land to grow their own food and for those on the very edge of sustenance, if disaster strikes in the form of a hurricane or drought or an economic crash, there are few reserves to fall back on.

Experts agree that America can produce enough food to feed its citizens. In fact, there's enough food in the world to feed everyone. According to World Hunger Education Service, world agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, even though the population has increased 70 percent.

What's being done to address hunger in America and how can you help? Here is some of the work taking place:

Community food aid. Community kitchens, food shelves and emergency food assistance programs provide for the hungry. You can donate money or food directly to these programs or give through food drives. You might also look for opportunities to help through your local schools, churches, and The Wedge. The Wedge collects food and cash from shoppers to help the hungry in our neighborhood. In times of natural disaster, the cash collections may be used for relief efforts. In 2010 The Wedge awarded grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 to the following organizations: Emergency Foodshelf Network, Cornucopia Institute, and Open Arms of Minnesota, among others.

Education to help establish food security. Some programs are teaching people about nutrition, how to garden and farm, breed animals, and put up food safely. These inspire self-reliance while offering training in specific skills. Others are spreading the word about hunger in America by sponsoring hunger awareness events and providing service opportunities. Check out volunteer opportunities in your area. The Wedge also supports the Youth Farm and Market Project, and contributes to local community gardens through its Green Patch Program.

Governmental level. Those working to combat hunger in America point to the need for solid economic solutions to combat poverty, support for local agriculture, respect for environmental resources, and careful management of food systems. Contact your state and federal representatives and share your support for ending hunger in America.

To find out more about the hunger in America, visit:

Every daily foursquare check-in at the Wedge during the month of November earns $1 from the Wedge for the Groveland Food Shelf.