Why Poor Kids in the US are Fat and Hungry and What to do About It

photo_09I was thinking about Buckminster Fuller, dedicating his life to help humanity. I was really seriously thinking about this. I wanted to do it. I wanted to seriously consider it and then do it and not take it back. Then soon after this, I went to my friend’s (liberal not Fundy) Presbyterian church and the message was about feeding the hungry. After church we had a luncheon and watched a DVD about how to end Childhood hunger in America. It was called A Place at the Table, and it explained how hunger and obesity are related. Because of the US system of Farm subsidies, corn, wheat and soy are really cheap and so food companies use these commodities to make lots of junk food. The subsidies were created for family farmers recovering from the depression, but now huge agribusinesses get 70% of it. Vegetables and fruit are smaller operations and don’t get many subsidies and so fruits and vegetables have gone way up and commodities have gone way down. Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, is quoted in the Movie:

The Department of Commerce reports that the indexed price of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased by 40% since 1980, whereas the indexed price of sodas has declined by about 30%. Fast food, snacks, and sodas are cheap. Fruits and vegetables are not.

Here is a link to a chart on this

I learned that because of this, obesity and hunger are not always at opposite ends of the spectrum but are actually intimately connected.

Basically poor people can only afford junk food. foodstamp benefits only provide about $3.00 a day. Everyone needs at least 2,000 calories a day. A few dollars can buy plenty of soda pop and processed foods but very few fruits and vegetables. So even though America’s poor(including the working poor) are often hungry they also suffer from obesity and complications associated with that such as diabetes. A kid eating a poor diet my be normal height and overweight but his brain development may suffer. So kids are developing more and more learning disabilities and developmental delays. The movie didn’t even go into GMO’s. But I am sure poor people are eating more than there share of GMO’s.

A staggering 50% of American children at some point in their lives rely on federal food assistance programs such as school lunch. Funding allocated to the school lunch program has not increased since the seventies. After overhead and administration costs are removed most public schools report they have a budget of about $.90 to $1.00 per meal. The movie portrayed the passing of a Bill in congress to improve the nutritional content of the School lunch program. The Bill was called The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act

President Obama supported the bill and wanted to take the money out of Farm subsidies to the largest fat cat land holders. The agribusiness lobby’s fought this and so half the money to increase funding school lunches came out of de-funding the Food Stamp Program.

So really this current system of Agricultural policy is at odds with children in America getting adequate nutrition. Its really ridiculous that these huge Agri-businesses need these subsidies, this welfare. They aren’t struggling. These aren’t poor farmers. These are huge corporations run by corporate executives. I did some research of my own to ascertain just who is it that gets the Lion’s share of these Farm subsidies. From this database I learned that the largest recipients of Farm subsidies are two private corporations, both Based in Stutgart, Arkansas called Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill. Between 1995 and 2012 Riceland Foods recieved $554,343,039 in subsidies. Producer’s Rice Mill received $314,028,012. I would be curious to learn if these two private companies had interlocking directorates. The CEO of Riceland Foods is Karl Daniel Kennedy a 16 year veteran of Monsanto corporation.

I was able to find a couple interesting charts. Here are the contributions to Political Candidates by Riceland Foods and the amount of money they received. I was able to briefly cross reference some of these names with a Page on the Maplight Website “revealing money’s influence on politics” that covered the vote and how each member of congress voted and how much PAC money they have received by lobbying groups opposed to the bill. Many members of congress, such as Michelle Bachmann, who received half a million dollars, appear to be paid NOT to vote.

Big Ag spends more many on Lobbying that any other interest Group besides Oil and Gas. These people are basically liars literally taking food out of the mouths of hungry children.

I see two different approaches to this problem:

1. The libertarian approach: Cut this corporate welfare and let the Market decide the price of food. This should result in making poisonous junk food far less profitable. It should eventually disappear. I am unsure if this approach would make healthy food cheaper however.

2. The socialist/liberal democrat approach: De-fund farm subsidies to Big Ag growing ceral grains and give it to organic farmers growing fruits and vegetables, and also school lunch programs and the food stamp programs.

I have to say number 2. bothers me, as a permanent solution for the fact that Food stamps and school lunch are band aid solutions. Hand outs don’t give people a sense of personal autonomy. I would like to see more communities providing food for themselves through CSA’s and community gardens and family farms selling fresh produce in Farmer’s markets. I would like to see more farms in community centers in urban areas. Food stamp benefits in food deserts isn’t going to improve nutrition. It will go to canned foods and processed foods because fresh produce is not available.

I think there should be targeted spending of tax money for these things to be developed. Grants to purchase vacant lots for CSA’s and community Gardens. I think non-profit organizations can help in this way also. I don’t have a lot of faith in government but maybe that is why the fat cats have taken over and are pigging out on the trough while everyone is asleep at the wheel. People are paying taxes and most of it is going to the rich. I can argue about getting rid of the IRS all day, but while it exists tax money is being shunted to Monsanto while children starve and develop brain damage.
There is a stigma against welfare to the poor but for some reason no stigma for the welfare to the rich. I can only conclude that people are simply not educated about this. Would the average taxpayer have their tax money go to a rich corporation rather than a hungry child? I tend to think not.
Other related issues are that wages are too low, and medical and housing costs are too high. Parents are often working three jobs and still relying on food banks to feed their children. There is something wrong with this system.

I have faith that the average person has enough goodness in them that if they were simply educated on the facts that they would make the right choice. These Big Agribusiness lobbies rely on obfuscation of the facts. The fact is huge banks and huge corporations don’t need welfare. Normal people (temporarily) do, especially children.

I would like to see our culture change. I would like to see more ordinary people involved in small scale food production. I think that would give them food security. This gives people in other countries food security. Its a cultural thing, that it our culture has been lost. Years ago for example, when I was a small child, living in Rhode Island I noticed many Portuguese and Italian immigrants had amazing back yard gardens. They grew delicious, nutritious food. As generations passed, it became less convenient for their kids and grandkids to continue these practices. These gardening skills were lost.

The US has the worst food insecurity problem of any advanced nation. The culture of small scale food production has not been lost in Europe. In European towns there are lots of gardens and rooftop chicken coops. Russians survived the fall of the Soviet Union partly due to their little family garden plots.

Lost cultural knowledge in America needs to be regained. People need to be re-acquainted with food production. We cannot rely on huge Agribusinesss and Factory Farms to produce our food, they had their chance and they screwed it up royally. They are only interested in accumulating massive wealth and producing toxic waste and poison. As a culture we gave our power away to these monsters. We need to take it back!

After watching this video, I realized that I was uniquely poised to make a difference. I am working this summer as a WWOOFer, working 20 hours a week on a small organic homestead, growing vegetables and raising chickens, in exchange for room and board. My boss Star Livingstone and her husband are building a classroom to offer classes to people in the local community to raise their own food. The area of Upstate NY, in which we live is actually a food desert, where many people have to travel an hour away to buy food, or otherwise content themselves with mini mart fare. More and more people in the community are growing and raising food in backyard gardens, but they need help. This is a challenging area in which to grow food, with often less than 90 days of warm sunny weather a year. Star has a wealth of knowledge and over 20 years experience as an organic Gardener in this region.

If you’d like to become more informed about the issues I’ve discussed then “A Place at the Table” is a good place to start. Here’s the trailer:

28 Comments on "Why Poor Kids in the US are Fat and Hungry and What to do About It"

  1. Apathesis | Jul 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm |

    There’s a reason why I live off of cereal from time to time…

    It’s incredibly cheap and nowhere near as deadly as fast food.

  2. I am surprised that Conagra was not listed as a big evil corp.

  3. atlanticus | Jul 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm |

    Okay…yes…but as someone who has been living on “student-level income” for a very long time now, let me tell you about how far dried beans, rice, and a crock pot can go…add some frozen veggies, canned sardines/tuna, eggs, potatoes, bananas/apples, plain yogurt, butter/olive oil, spices, soy sauce, tortillas…pop your own popcorn for snacks, or splurge on chips and salsa (the chips crumbs can always be used later for migas)…

    Beans and rice, migas and fried rice are your friends. Grow extra veggies and herbs, if you have a patio…they’re like, pretty much free.

    (I do buy organic corn if I’m getting tortillas/tortilla chips; popcorn is safe because there is no GMO popcorn yet and I buy it without oil or seasoning.)

    • Ted Heistman | Jul 16, 2013 at 11:54 am |

      Those are some good tips. Thanks. Part of what is needed is education on preparing food from whole ingredients and also growing herbs and veggies.. That is an example of cultural knowledge that is often lost.
      I will say though that olive oil is not cheap and some of the things you mention aren’t available in food deserts!

      • Calypso_1 | Jul 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm |

        What is really lost is the knowledge of the cycle of food growth in a sustenance diet be it animal or veg. Since we can buy at leisure out of season or even if we grow, we grow things which are not necessarily native.
        Who still understands an entire cuisine based upon what is available in a season, what stage of rearing poultry are in, how much you can preserve….how hard you think the winter is going to be.

        • Ted Heistman | Jul 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm |

          That’s actually the kind of stuff I am learning this summer. I have been eating peanut butter, too though! But everyday I eat things from the garden. One think I learned how to do this summer is make yogurt! Yougurt at the store is not cheap, but you can make gallons of it by using some as a culture and putting it in boiled milk and letting it sit and turn into more yogurt.

          • Calypso_1 | Jul 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

            : ) Been making yogurt for years.
            Got cheese cloth? Straining to different water content is good for different recipes. Makes some good soup. Use it in bread.
            Breakfast parfaits…Ohhh & lassis!

            Try making your own kefir too.

          • “Try making your own kefir too.”

            In the process of rehydrating some grains as we speak. I think I left it in too long for the first cycle and royally fucked it up (had them in less than 24 hours…roughly 22…but had it on top of a refrigerator). And, on top of that, we’re in a bit of a heat wave where I’m at, so they’re working pretty fast. I’ve since switched locations and been keeping a closer eye on it, and have also been decreasing its settling/fermentation time (close to 12-13 hours on fourth cycle), but it’s still coming out too chunky (I think). Was gonna actually try some after the next round.

            I know I’ve made this much more complicated than making kefir actually is, since it is (or should be, at least) ridiculously easy. But it’s my first go and I think I’m getting the hang of it. And I got this unbelievably delicious raw milk from a local farm that practices rotational grazing that I’ve been dying to try in kefir form (rehydrated it using organic pasteurized whole milk as per the instruction recommendations).

      • atlanticus | Jul 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm |

        “some of the things you mention aren’t available in food deserts”

        I can get olive oil for super cheap at a nearby discount store. I forget sometimes that I may benefit from living in a small college town.

        • Ted Heistman | Jul 17, 2013 at 8:33 am |

          Yeah, college towns are good places to be poor. I have lived in college towns myself for that reason, for example, Madison, WI. Good bus line,bike trails, lots of food choices and cheap or free entertainment and arts.

          The food desert situation occurs in Urban areas and also rural areas, where people have to shop at Gas stations basically or take the bus for an hour or more. Carrying a couple kids plus a weeks worth of groceries for an hour on the bus is almost impossible. Shopping an hour away everyday is simply not feasible.

          These small stores, old crappy mom and pops or mini-marts, generally have a few bunches of bananas once in a while and that’s it for fresh produce. Everything else is pretty much. processed or junk food. These little outlets can’t buy bulk and the prices are inflated.

          Plus more and more people find themselves in the ranks of the working poor. Working more than 40 hours a week and still not able to make it. Food prep time for people in that situation is pretty much shot. I commend people like yourself that use some ingenuity and know how to have a high quality frugal life. You are a valuable resource. But I have to say there is something wrong with our system. The slack is being pulled out. For families making just over $24,000 a year, its getting really really hard to have a life. They don’t qualify for assistance, yet they can’t afford basic necessities.

    • Calypso_1 | Jul 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

      Garlic, ginger & a wok take things a long way as well.

  4. Related, great recent article from Aeon Magazine:

    The obesity era

    Also, one from one of my favorite farmers Joel Salatin:

    Rebel with a Cause: Local Food Can Feed the World

    Of particular interest is his point of large swaths of lawn (which is nothing more than manicured/”decorative” monocrop turf grass that requires tons of water and petro-chemical products for upkeep) that are going to waste (Truth No. 4), which could be easily converted to edible landscapes – back- and frontyard gardens (or install hoop houses for areas with less forgiving climate…could even go the aquaponic route as made popular by Milwaukee’s Will Allen and his non-profit company Growing Power).

    • Ted Heistman | Jul 16, 2013 at 11:27 am |

      Thanks, Joel Salatin is the man!

      • Seconded! Thanks for the great article.

        • Ted Heistman | Jul 16, 2013 at 2:37 pm |

          No problem, glad you enjoyed it. Joe Salatin is a household name hereabouts! The lady I work for was buying chickens from a guy who interned at Polyface farm. Now he is moving to Virginia to escape the heavy red tape in NYS, so we may be raising meat chickens also!

          • That’s awesome! Guy’s been a huge inspiration to me. I pick up my beef, chicken, milk, and eggs from a nearby farm that adheres to his “management-intensive grazing” practices. They love the guy, too, and have meet him at a bunch of Weston A. Price Foundation conferences. I’ve actually been meaning to submit an article here featuring him (and Allan Savory) on that grazing technique, and your article kinda rekindled the fire. Don’t have quite the way with words like you, but I think I’m gonna go ahead and do it.

          • Ted Heistman | Jul 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm |

            You should! Just be conversational, you sound good here in the comments!

            Weston A Price is another important thinker for me. He proved that indigenous diets were heather than the western diet. You CAN get fat on raw milk though, don’t let anyone fool you. I drank the hell out of it when I lived in WA state and gained 15 lbs! I am still trying to get it back off. Last year when I was gardening here I got in really great shape. I felt great on the raw milk though just fat!

            There is actually a tribe in Africa that has a male beauty contest to see who can get the fattest, and they drink raw milk!

          • Thanks for the encouragement!

            Yeah, it’s way too easy to guzzle down a gallon of that stuff. I usually have a glass for breakfast and half of one with a snack later in the day, which seems like a fairly reasonable amount. I’m also working my ass off evenings and weekends installing a raised bed garden in the backyard of my dad’s office (if you can put an organic garden in the yard of an insurance salesman, you can put one anywhere!). It’s my first attempt at it, but I did it from scratch and almost all alone – from design to constructing the beds to installing them and hauling all the material. I’m actually helping him re-landscape his entire yard this summer, so that keeps me active.

            Oh, and I was reminded of one more recent Aeon essay that’s great and sort of relates to your article:

            The real two cultures

            Interesting tidbit on the tribe front! Don’t anyone tell them about processed foods!

          • Ted Heistman | Jul 17, 2013 at 9:26 am |

            Good for you! I love making raised beds. I love any kind of hardscaping. I am no carpenter, but it sure is satisfying to look at what you have built and have it work out.

            I really liked that article. I came back here partly because I missed having a new challenge everyday. Most “jobs” are not challenging at all once you are trained in it. The challenge is being able to put up with the monotony!

            Gardening is a struggle! I feel like it gets all my cylinders working, otherwise I would be on auto-pilot.

            Aeon seems like a good publication. Thanks for turning me onto it. I should submit some stuff to them…

    • Calypso_1 | Jul 16, 2013 at 11:51 am |

      One of the funny things about a lawn: It’s the look of having livestock. We try to artificially maintain the manicured appearance of the natural grazing patterns of ungulates. Code enforcement requires grass at a certain height but won’t allow goats. Don’t want non green or weedy lawn, complain about fertilizer runoff and insect pests but won’t allow poultry which provide natural nitrogen source, weed & insect control.
      A Kenyan friend, bewildered to see lawn services when he came to the states…”You need boys with Goats.”

    • Ted Heistman | Jul 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm |

      This part is really good:

      “It is a saga spanning many generations. Let’s start with a poor
      farmer growing food crops in a poor country in Africa or Asia. In a
      capitalistic quest for new markets and cheap materials and labour,
      Europeans take control of the economy in the late 18th or early 19th
      century. With taxes, fees and sometimes violent repression, their new
      system strongly ‘encourages’ the farmer and his neighbours to stop
      growing their own food and start cultivating some more marketable
      commodity instead – coffee for export, perhaps. Now that they aren’t
      growing food, the farmers must buy it. But since everyone is out to
      maximise profit, those who purchase the coffee crop strive to pay as
      little as possible, and so the farmers go hungry. Years later, when the
      farmer’s children go to work in factories, they confront the same logic:
      they too are paid as little as possible for their labour. By changing
      the farming system, capitalism first removes traditional protections
      against starvation, and then pushes many previously self-sufficient
      people into an economic niche where they aren’t paid enough to eat well.

      Eighty years later, the farmer’s descendants have risen out of the
      ranks of the poor and joined the fast-growing ranks of the world’s
      21st-century middle-class consumers, thanks to globalisation and
      outsourcing. Capitalism welcomes them: these descendants are now prime
      targets to live the obesogenic life (the chemicals, the stress, the air
      conditioning, the elevators-instead-of-stairs) and to buy the kinds of
      foods and beverages that are ‘metabolic disturbers’.

      But that’s not the worst of it. As I’ve mentioned, the human body’s
      response to its nutrition can last a lifetime, and even be passed on to
      the next generation. If you or your parents – or their parents – were
      undernourished, you’re more likely to become obese in a food-rich
      environment. Moreover, obese people, when they have children, pass on
      changes in metabolism that can predispose the next generation to obesity as well. Like the children of underfed people, the children of the overfed have their metabolism set in ways that tend to promote obesity. This means that a past of undernutrition, combined with a present of overnutrition, is an obesity trap.

      Wells memorably calls this double-bind the ‘metabolic ghetto’, and
      you can’t escape it just by turning poor people into middle-class
      consumers: that turn to prosperity is precisely what triggers the trap.
      ‘Obesity,’ he writes, ‘like undernutrition, is thus fundamentally a
      state of malnutrition, in each case promoted by powerful profit-led
      manipulations of the global supply and quality of food.’
      The trap is deeper than that, however. The ‘unifying logic of
      capitalism’, Wells continues, requires that food companies seek
      immediate profit and long-term success, and their optimal strategy for
      that involves encouraging people to choose foods that are most
      profitable to produce and sell — ‘both at the behavioural level, through
      advertising, price manipulations and restriction of choice, and at the
      physiological level through the enhancement of addictive properties of
      foods’ (by which he means those sugars and fats that make ‘metabolic
      disturber’ foods so habit-forming). In short, Wells told me via email,
      ‘We need to understand that we have not yet grasped how to address this
      situation, but we are increasingly understanding that attributing
      obesity to personal responsibility is very simplistic.’”

  5. Rus Archer | Jul 16, 2013 at 10:40 am |

    1. frozen vegetables – cheap and often healthier than “fresh” vegetables
    2. stop having kids

  6. Calypso_1 | Jul 16, 2013 at 11:45 am |

    My major metro area has large urban gardens (not run by the guv’ment) that are in the middle of the housing developments. Veggies are freely available to families and are subsidized by all the hipster locavores.
    The kids still spend a lot more time at the corner store getting candy & sodas than picking up carrots…just like kids everywhere.

  7. Bobananda Das | Dec 12, 2013 at 11:48 am |

    Most of the arguments make no sense to me.

    It cannot possibly be ignorance of what is is healthy and what is not. Even the dumbest poor person knows that spinach is healthier than a big mac, but if you offered them a bunch of spinach or a big mac, costing the same amount, they’d pick the big mac.

    Do you really think they’d pick the big mac because they’re running calculations in their head to compare calories and judge the big mac to be a better deal because it has more calories? Of course not. In their mind, the big mac = delicious, and the bunch of spinach = not delicious.

    And people don’t need locally grown organic food to be pinnacles of health. There’s not a damned thing wrong with frozen vegetables. Non-organic frozen vegetables are SUPER cheap and super healthy.

    I think poor people are fat because of choice. Not that they choose to be fat, but because they choose big macs, and mountain dew over spinach and water.

    • Jin The Ninja | Dec 12, 2013 at 2:24 pm |

      did you come up with that glaringly brilliant social observation all by yourself!?
      i’m so impressed!!!

      • Bobananda Das | Jul 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm |

        Did you come up with your glaringly pointless sarcasm all by yourself, or did you learn it from all the people who browbeat you in high school?

        My comments are refutations of points made in the article. If you disagree with something I said, then refute it with your own brilliant social observations, because is it stands now, your comment is pointless (literally).

        • Jin The Ninja | Jul 30, 2014 at 6:21 pm |

          almost a year late.

          if only your

          intellectual prowess

          was half as keen

          as your timing….

          • Bobananda Das | Aug 2, 2014 at 6:58 am |

            if only your

            debating prowess

            was half as keen

            as your mastery of

            the carriage return…

Comments are closed.