Our Shredded Values — Hunger and Malnutrition In America


Posted by Bob Lord

I generally watch very few documentaries, but saw two this weekend: Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill, and A Place At The Table. More on Dirty Wars in another post. It’s a powerful movie, one every American should see.

A Place At The Table may be as powerful as Dirty Wars, but in a different way. Dirty Wars exposes the work of an imperialistic American regime, waging aggressive war all over the planet, while the majority of its own citizenry remains clueless. A Place At The Table smacks us in the face with what we already know — that about one in every six Americans — and one in every four children — lives in poverty, not fully knowing where the next meal is coming from, or if it’s coming at all. And it tells us how badly our society’s moral compass is broken. 

The title of this post is a take off on a book Jimmy Carter wrote, Our Endangered Values. The values Carter considered endangered in 2005 are shredded now, or so it seems. We’re a country of unprecedented wealth and income. Spread our income evenly and every family of four would be at just under $200,000 per year. Yet we give tax breaks to billionaires while poor children go hungry.

I grew up in an America that declared war on poverty. And though we never wiped out poverty, we had come close to eliminating hunger in America by the mid 70’s or so. Then Reagan took office, and we lost our minds, and our collective conscience. The America I grew up in, as imperfect as it was, bears no resemblance to America today.

If you think this is just about jobs and the recession, think again. Eighty-five percent of the households in America facing food insecurity have at least one working adult. This is not about our economy, it’s about or morality.

The harm we’re doing to our own society by tolerating this situation is immense. Obesity actually goes hand in hand with hunger. Those facing food insecurity purchase the cheapest calories available, and those calories are found in processed food. One of the opening scenes in the movie is a doctor examining an obese second-grade Mississippi girl, easily 50% over her ideal weight. But guess what? She went without breakfast that morning because her family couldn’t afford it. She’ll have things like chips (really cheap calories) later in the day. By the end of the day, she’ll have consumed more calories than she should, but still will have spend part of the day hungry, and the entire day malnourished.

So it’s not just hunger, it’s malnutrition. And when children, especially children under six, are malnourished, their brains don’t develop fully. When young brains don’t develop fully, their potential is destroyed.

We’re not just stealing the potential of those poor children when we refuse to raise the tax revenue to feed them or use that tax revenue to fund a bloated military industrial complex instead. We’re destroying our own potential, as a society, as well. How? Think about those millions of poor children whose potential is being destroyed, remembering that the distribution of genius is random. If we had made sure those poor children were properly fed, such that they all reached their potential, some would be going on to do great things, like inventing cures for disease or breakthrough energy technologies. By allowing them to starve and be malnourished, we’ve denied ourselves, and really the world, the benefit of their potential genius. All so rich people could have more stuff and place more bets in the Wall Street casino.

Those values we held as a country when I grew up, the values that Carter labeled endangered in 2005, and that many individuals here still hold, are gone from our collective conscience.