Hungry is Hungry

Correct the Problem, Not the Word

Semantics will not solve the real problem: 35 million Americans going hungry is 35 million too many.

The holiday season is upon us, which for most Americans centers around the three F’s: families, friends, and food. But that’s not always the case when it comes to food. Last year 35 million Americans did not have enough food to get by. This figure includes a significant number of children. According to the Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program, families with children, especially those under the age of six, are more likely than those without children to experience hunger.

Even though 35 million is slightly less than in previous years, what is disturbing is the Agriculture Department’s recent announcement that it would stop using the word “hunger” in its annual hunger report, opting instead for the euphemistically phrased “low food security” or “food insecure.” But what does that mean?

“Very low food security” means one or more people in the household were hungry over a one-year period because the family could not afford enough food. The Agriculture Department has decided that describing the plight of hungry Americans is too vague and not scientifically accurate. In their words, hunger is not accurate to describe “a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation.”

That may be more scientifically accurate, but semantics will not solve the problem—35 million Americans going hungry is 35 million too many. As Jim Weill, President of the Food Research and Action Center, notes, “Changing the term and watering it down doesn’t change the fact that 35 million Americans are in a constant struggle to put enough food on the table and to ward off hunger. And that extraordinary number in this wealthy country living in a period of sustained economic growth is appalling, no matter what you call it.”

The new Congress can take several steps to reduce America’s poverty and hunger levels. Congress should pass a much overdue minimum wage increase to help lower income Americans afford more food. Congress can also strengthen the Food Stamp Program in the upcoming Farm Bill; the average food stamp benefit of one dollar per person per meal is extremely insufficient. As the Center for American Progress has noted before, much work is left to be done to “reduce program bureaucracies, harmonize eligibility standards, and provide a seamless web of services.”

We’ve already seen the results of not doing so.

For other Center for American Progress articles on hunger and poverty, see:

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