The Right To Eat

Not even going to provide commentary but urge you to read this piece on India’s struggles with hunger. It is amazing (oh wait now I am commenting oh well) how ideology humps itself in there on questions of morality–do we let the market play a role, what can government do, etc. That happens here, too, of course. Earlier this summer I tried to pay for a ferry ticket with a $20 bill, which the ferry guy refused, telling me it was counterfeit. This struck me as supremely absurd. Isn’t money in general just an elaborate charade? If he had accepted the $20, then used it to pay someone else, would it have made any difference? It’s not magic paper, it’s just a mutually-agreed-upon fantasy symbol. Mostly I feel like I think we should just do away with it altogether. Start over with a clean slate. But first, let’s feed everyone.

The Hunger

The NYT writes about a study today that suggests (the sample was only 20 people) metabolic factors affect decision-making–in short, hungry people take bigger risks. As one person pointed out in the comments, it seems to make evolutionary sense. If you’re full, no need to chase after that scary woolly mammoth or hike into unknown territory. If you’re hungry, it might seem worthwhile.

I was intrigued that the Times chose to frame their discussion of the findings in terms of  wealthy finance-industry players, writing, “Maybe what Wall Street’s risk-loving bankers really need is a better diet.” They even had a picture of a fat cat!

Really, New York Times? Exactly how hungry do you think people on Wall Street are? I’m guessing: Not at all. Is there any evidence at all that rich folks are hungry, other than maybe those on diets? The Times is all hahah, maybe we can blame the financial meltdown on this! It’s so telling to me that they didn’t think that perhaps hunger made the victims of Wall Street more vulnerable to the hucksterism and shady dealings of sub-prime predators.

The study itself used purchasing lottery tickets as its measure of risk-taking behavior. The subjects who were hungry chose riskier odds. Hmm, who plays the lottery in real life? It is disproportionately people with lower incomes. A Carnegie-Mellon study found that (surprise), those with fewer resources are more desperate for changes in their circumstances and find the concept of a lottery appealing, because, in theory, anyone can win.

We know the brain needs food. That’s why school lunch programs and making sure children eat breakfast are so important. That’s why we support NYC’s free meal program for children under 18. That’s why we were dismayed to read today that so many states and municipalities are cutting such programs, especially during a time of economic crisis. Because we are a lot more worried about kids going hungry than we are about bankers missing a meal.


The Fight for Food in New Orleans

Link: The Fight for Food in New Orleans


Poverty is a massive issue in the 2010 version of New Orleans, and with that comes a food insecurity rate that is among the highest in the nation (60 percent of residents say they have to choose between paying utility bills and buying food some months). And as is true in so many other low-income communities around the country, the problem is not only about money, but also about access to quality food. Even if every New Orleans resident could afford high-quality groceries every day, the city’s infrstructure for providing the food can’t yet keep up with demand.

The average grocery store in the city — there are 20, compared to 30 before Katrina — serves 16,000 people, twice the national average, according to Amara Foster, who saw the problem up close as a National Hunger Fellow in New Orleans. Writing for the Center for American Progress, Foster reports that, especially in the poorest neighborhoods of the city, the number of corner markets selling chips and candy far outstrips the number of proper grocery stores, contributing to the oft-misunderstood connection between poverty and obesity.

New Orleans’ troubles convincingly illustrate the tremendous need for the expansion of anti-hunger programs proposed by President Obama. Obama’s budget for next year would dramatically increase the amount spent on child nutrition programs. Just as importantly, it would dedicate $400 million per year to bringing fresh food to corner stores and to funding new grocery stores and farmers’ markets. For New Orleans residents who don’t want to compete with their 16,000 closest friends at the grocery store, that’s a good idea.

I got into an argument last night with a guy who said that people eating badly was a “cultural” problem and that we just had to teach them to eat better. I wish I’d had this to show him.

-Julia Childless