Food Insecurity in America

Rebecca Sufrin

Writing Intern

Food insecurity in America has recently been publicized with the help of celebrities. Matt Damon, Private Practice’s Taye Diggs, and Ugly Betty’s Ana Ortiz have each starred in a thirty-second PSA for the organization Feeding America. In the announcements, each actor plays a real, average American, who happens to be critiquing the actors in real life after their short monologue.

The tagline at the end of each announcement is, “hunger is a real story,” contrasting with the fact that the actors play a different person in the announcements. In America, these real stories exist all across the country, in the nooks and crannies of each state, county, city, and town.

The USDA Economic Research Service defines food insecurity as, “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” More specifically, Feeding America defines this adequacy as, “nutritionally adequate.”

Though there are many levels of food insecurity, the organization clarifies that, “food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.”

In 2011, Feeding America published two interactive maps that show both the overall food insecurity rate and the food insecurity rate among children. The national food insecurity rate at that time was 16.4 percent with there being more than 50 million food insecure people.

The government offers support based on state-set poverty levels. The most commonly known option is to be placed on food stamps, which is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In 2011, 57 percent of people in the U.S. who were below 130% of poverty were SNAP eligible. In Pennsylvania, the food insecurity rate was 14.9 percent and in Allegheny County it was 13.6 percent.

And recently, Pittsburghers have put the SNAP program to the test.

For five days, four Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff members, among many others, used only six dollars per day to purchase food, which is approximately how much SNAP recipients are allotted in Pennsylvania. And according to the rules of the challenge, participants are, “not allowed to use food they already have and are not allowed to eat food bought or given to them by others.”

To document their experience living on food stamps, the participants maintained a joint blog. It is filled with photographic examples of daily meals as well as numerous descriptions of hunger, cravings, and temptations that could not be met, unless of course, they would break the rules of the challenge.

On the first day of the challenge, participant Curtis Edmonds noted the impacts that his only meal, a bagel, had on him by the end of the day.

“…I was so tired coming home from work in the evening (more so than usual) that I collapsed on my bed and woke up around 3 a.m. So now I know that crappy eating can have an effect on sleep cycles…”

Edmonds continued by stressing the importance of the positive relationship between “well fed” and “productive” workers. If people cannot afford to eat well, how can they be expected to work efficiently?

This topic highlights the vicious cycle that is severe economic inequality. When a person cannot make enough money, for whatever reason, they are often forced to rely on governmental programs to survive, in all senses of the word.

And in this sense, I take offense to those who say that people take advantage of the government for its money and are “lazy” and are just simply “not trying hard enough” to “make something of themselves,” especially if they are struggling to find food to sustain themselves each day. Meaningful opportunities to make money are often barren if circumstances are not exactly right. Furthermore, the general potential for social mobility is extremely limited.

But for so many people in this country, the food stamp challenge is an inescapable nightmare where there are no choices to forfeit.


For more information about income inequality in the United States, please see the link below: