I witnessed something extraordinary the other day; during a Christmas food drive, after closing hours (I happened to be that guy who was there after the place closed, but I was waiting in line for to pay, so I guess I’m justified? No, I’m still an asshole), I watched as a manager went over to where food had been collected for people in need. Very discretely he began taking the canned food and boxed cereals out of the box, putting it into a bag, and having some employees go over. There he distributed the food to the employees, many of whom were middle aged and not the typical teenage retail employees.
Now, maybe this was all an elaborate scam to get free food for the holidays. Maybe they’ve figured out a way to game the system. Or, it could be that things are just that bad. Not even 5 years ago, Walmart had egg on its face when it held a food drive for its own employees, begging the question that if you have to get food donated for your employees, shouldn’t that be a sign that you’re not paying enough? Of course, no one stops to ask that question.
Yet, there’s another question that’s important to ask: Why do we have charity during the holidays? Granted, no one in the modern industrialized world gives more than Americans (hey, we are #1 at a few things at least, right?), but that’s because no one in the industrialized world needs to give more than Americans. The idea of having a “food drive” is a foreign concept in some contemporary nations because food security isn’t an issue. Even the poor in Norway don’t have to worry about going to sleep without having a proper meal, but in the United States that’s an everyday worry. In fact, 12.3% of US households (not population, households) will experience food insecurity at some point throughout the year. With an average of 2.5 people per household (125 million households compared to 323 million people), that means approximately 45,295,200 men, women, and children are food insecure at any given moment throughout the year. That’s 14% of the US population.
It gets even more depressing when you break it down by state and county. Within the US some states, such as Mississippi, sit at a statewide average of 18%, with some counties exceeding 30%. Take Jefferson County, Mississippi, that sits at a food insecurity rate of 38% and over 70% qualifying for the SNAP program (meaning they’re below 130% of the poverty line). And it’s not just the South; Wayne County, Michigan has a food insecurity rate in excess of 20% and a whopping 85% of its residents qualify for SNAP.
But wait, there’s more!
If you look at national statistics, the national household average income is around $54,000, or about 200% of the poverty line, based on the assumption of a family of four. This makes sense considering nearly half of Americans earn less than $30,000 a year. The National Center for Children in Poverty sets the standard for “low income” at 200% of the poverty line. The reasoning behind this is that when you’re only 200% of the poverty line, you’re essentially living paycheck to paycheck. Yes, you’re not impoverished, but you can’t really save money. So if you lose your job or don’t get paid, it’s catastrophic because you likely have nothing in savings as half of Americans can’t save money. The reality, based on the previous link, is that only 19% of Americans have what we could deem a “real” savings account, that is, they could take a $1,000 hit and still have money left in savings. This also means that 50% of all children in America live near the poverty line, which of course creates massive problems in terms of health, education, and future prospects for the nation. As that study shows, having an education doesn’t really help as nearly half of all children living in poverty have a parent with a college education.
Yet, with all of this we have the Republicans –in their infinite wisdom and complete ignorance of economics, morality, and common decency – saying that in 2018 they’re going after “entitlement” programs and “welfare” programs. This after they gave the biggest hand job welfare boost to corporations and wealthy people in US history. Under the status quo we’re already looking at 14% of our population facing food insecurity and with many more on the brink of food insecurity. Making cuts to programs will only increase the number of hungry people in the US. It’s entirely plausible that cuts to SNAP and other beneficial living programs could easily see the number rise as high as 20-25% nationally.
In light of this, the United States produces enough food to feed 10 billion people. The US population is, of course, a few billion fewer than that. We produce enough food to feed people with little to no effort; we could literally give away half of the food and still not impact the profit of food production, as we waste half the food produced anyway. I’ve worked in restaurants before where we had to throw food out because we weren’t allowed to give it away or eat it as employees. How much sense does that make?
All of this leads back to the original point; we have food drives because we’re incredibly inefficient at feeding our own people. Charity work for toys, presents, clothing, and things like that can make some sense, but for food? Since when was food a “charity” item and not, you know, essential to living? What’s crazier is that this is completely artificial. We’re not in the midst of a famine, we’re not facing food shortages or export problems, and our food isn’t even overly priced when compared to other nations (such as Europe). The food insecurity in the US is completely, 100% artificial.