Issue 44 • Week of November 13, 2022
Thanksgiving week is the one of the most popular times for Americans to volunteer to help those less fortunate. And while this honored pastime is an embodiment of our unique commitment to charity, some food banks are starting to ask would-be helpers to assist in other ways. Those who have struggled to put food on the table may also question why this altruistic tradition never seems to eradicate the problem of hunger across the most prosperous nation in history.
The president seems to agree, having called the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in over 50 years only two months ago to build a corporate coalition to reduce food insecurity. But let's explore some of the root causes in order to ensure we arrive at a lasting solution before accepting this daunting challenge as checked off for good.
First of all, take a closer look at something you may have already noticed. Food prices have inched up since 2016 after earlier declines and rose sharply by over 13% in the past year, but is it due to inflation… or collusion?
Consumers have been victims of several recent price-fixing schemes for poultry, pork, beef, tuna, eggs, dairy, potatoes, and mushrooms. Farmers, too, have fought similar hikes due to consolidation in the peanut, seed, and fertilizer industries.
This anti-competitive behavior that has driven costs up by as much as 50% has had limited repercussions. Only 10 executives have been indicted, despite $1 billion in fines that rarely ever make it back to consumers' pockets. The reward for gouging has been reaped by shareholders of the 10 largest food companies that boosted returns by nearly $4 billion in the first half of 2022 alone.
And so it is no wonder that these artificial pressures added to the economic challenges from the pandemic. Hunger peaked in July 2020 at a quarter of all US households and one third of US households with children. Southern states should especially take note, since the top 10 states where the most people struggle to feed their households constitute a contiguous region stretching from North Carolina and West Virginia to New Mexico with the sole exception of Tennessee.
Many portray malnutrition as solely an issue for the homeless or unemployed, but 85% of families that are food insecure have at least one working adult.
Americans were not always in such dire straits. Poverty hit a modern day low in 1974 of 23 million people, which had doubled by a decade ago to 46 million, and now affects about 34 million people.
How has hunger been addressed, how has it persisted, and how can we help those in need after decades of failing them?
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