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As a people from a highly developed country, we tend to think of hunger as being an issue with countries and cultures other than our own. Hunger is very much with us as a nation and in the region of the Pacific Northwest. Obviously, the supply of nutritional food is not the issue in the United States. If that is not the case it brings some very important questions to mind. The first being what are the causes of hunger in the United States as an example of a developed nation? Secondly, and more importantly, how can the society at large tolerate this unconscionable situation?
The causes for hunger are many; they are many, complex and necessarily inter-related. The food industry is very large and represents a significant part of the national domestic economy. It is multi-tiered involving small farmers, agribusiness, the raising and management of livestock, pharmaceuticals, corporate interests, food import/export and transportation. As a result, there are many stakeholders and the big “players” view the making of profits and the satisfaction of shareholders and investors as their primary and fiduciary interest. These relationships constitute the fundamental infrastructure upon which our entire economy is based. Realistically, this will remain with us well into the foreseeable future.
Given the infrastructure built around food and the food industry, individuals go hungry; because, they are unable to pay for the nutrition they require to sustain their lives. Individuals and families faced with this situation need to depend upon non-profit private agencies that devote their time, expertise and effort into providing food – food banks are an excellent example of this kind of service. As evidence of the magnitude of the problem of hunger facing the United States – circa 2015 – it is reported that one in 7 individuals (14.3% or 45 million persons) rely on food banks to blunt the impact of hunger in their lives. This includes 16.7 million children under 18. These data have been compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In regards to the situation King County with the state of Washington - according to data compiled by communitiescount.org,
· Greater than 20% of King County children are food insecure
· Greater than 13% of King County residents overall are food insecure.
These numbers are significant and expose the economic underbelly of a national economy that is supposedly experiencing significant growth and fully recovered from the disastrous recession of 2008. In fact, hunger has been a nagging issue for many years and certainly predates the last recession.
Why are so many of us hungry? Poverty, of course, is the underlying reality. It is not only the unemployed and underemployed that find themselves unable to pay for adequate nutrition. In fact, the data informs us that many of those individuals and families that are fully employed do not have enough income to pay for food. Many millions of individuals work at jobs that do not pay a “living” wage and offer no benefits. In addition, many employers who pay their workers inadequately also implement employment policies that are harsh and unforgiving creating an atmosphere where termination is always possible.
Individuals and families with limited income are under a constant state of stress; for, they have to manage an exceedingly tight budget to accommodate the basic necessities – housing, heating, electricity, health, communication, transportation and nutrition. The cost of some of these necessities such as housing and health can spiral upwards further exacerbating a difficult situation. As a consequence, those expenditures that need to be cut often include nutrition by necessity.
These are some of the harsh realities in which we live as a people. There is no shortage of food in the United States – there is more than enough for everyone. In fact, great quantities of food are wasted on a daily basis. Why does this condition of hunger facing so many of us, continue?