Feed America then Feed the World
It is quite difficult to comprehend that a country purported to be the most powerful and one of the wealthiest could harbor the problem of hunger. The United States leads among donor countries in providing aid for countries in need yet it is apparent that the burgeoning need for food security for American less fortunate people is equally alarming as those of the people in the direst of situations like Ethiopia’s. As economic prosperity increases over the years so does the gap between the rich and the poor. It is a more appropriate response for the United States government to focus its attention on domestic food security issues before extending aid to other foreign nations. “Charity begins at home” as the saying goes. Fixing the problem of food security on the home front is imperative if the United States government would seek support for their food aid to other troubled countries. The time has come for the United States to pause and listen to its citizen’s call for help. Altruism is a positive trait but it would be irrelevant if the number of Americans that go hungry increases.
Why Americans Go Hungry
A US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report indicated that the incidence of
food insecurity among Americans increased in 2004. The report used the US Census Bureau data as benchmark. It was reported that 11.9 percent of all U.S. households were “food insecure” because of lack of resources. Among the 13.5 million households considered as food insecure, 4.4 million were classified as severe and according to USDA standards, they are considered “hungry” (Hunger and Food Insecurity in the United States, 2006). From an estimated 31 million in 1999, 33.6 million in 2001, the incidence of insecurity has gone up to 38.2 million in 2004. (Hunger and Food Insecurity in the United States, 2006).
Hunger in American context is referred to as “the recurrent and involuntary lack of access to sufficient food due to poverty or constrained resources, which can lead to malnutrition over time” (Hunger and Food Insecurity in the United States, 2006). Compared to other countries suffering starvation and food depravation, the situation is not quite as severe in the United States. Nevertheless, the growing number of Americans going hungry in a country believed to be plentiful is disheartening.
According to Valentine (2005), Americans go hungry for various reasons. Hunger is mainly attributed to the inability of impoverished Americans gaining access to resources. Food insecurity is also attributed to unexpected events like emergency hospital confinement, loss of job or death in the family. Good, nutritious food is quite inaccessible to minimum wage income earners. In addition, the risk of food insecurity increases with incidence of poverty, low literacy, certain disabilities and poor health (IWG and FSAC, 1999, p.ii).
Addressing the Problem
The United States since World War I is the largest world donor and lender with over $300 billion of extended aids and loans to foreign countries. All these loans were meant to feed, rebuild, train, sustain democracies, and a host of other positive development objectives that beneficiary countries would require (Smith, 1978). The government in response to the problem of food security has instituted programs that are geared to reduce the incidence of hunger in the country. Major macroeconomic policies like monetary, fiscal, and trade policies promoting strong economic growth and job creation along with low inflation were implemented to increase food security (IWG and FSAC, 1999, p.11).
Welfare reforms including food stamps to assist needy families albeit temporarily were included to ease the food problem. Other supportive programs like childcare, education, transportation and other transitional initiatives were all meant to ease the pressure on the impoverished families.
Despite the presence of these programs, the incidence of food insecurity continues to increase. Amy Glasmeier, an E. Willard Miller Professor of Economic Geography noted that food stamps do not eliminate hunger. It is only a temporary measure that proved to be ineffective. The food stamp allowances covered only a third of the recommended USDA statistics for food expenditure for a family of four (Valentine, 2005). In addition, the recent Welfare Reforms has cut back government spending on welfare stamps.
The history of welfare for the poor whether written from the liberal or the conservative camp seems to describe weak interventions and ones that fail. Notwithstanding Katz’s (1986) feeble justification and strong sentimentality for the War on Poverty, little credible evidence has accrued testifying to the success of any welfare (nonmarket) intervention (Epstein, 1997). Welfare programs like the AFDC and Food Stamps fail to take the poor out of their predicament. Despite the billions of dollars poured into these programs, they still fail to alleviate poverty in general. In fact, it is not too incredible to cite that these programs are merely symbols of failure to address the real issue. The customary superficiality of public welfare interventions and their inability to achieve either narrow goals or more general ones, taken together with their timeless popularity, suggest that they may fulfill a symbolic political role that dominates their strict economic function (Epstein, 1997).
An Alternative Proposition
Given that the current government programs to ease the pressure on people living below the poverty level do not really resolve the issue of food security, it is best to reconsider the billions of dollars spent on Food Aid to other countries. The government has to review its mechanisms on food security in their own turf before volunteering to provide other countries with Food Aid. Many would suspect that the priorities of the government are a bit skewed. Why provide billions worth of food aid to other needy nations while failing to resolve food security problems at home?
Putting foreign food aid first over the needs of the Americans puts the government in a bad light. It is more appropriate that the government prioritize the needs of the Americans first. Some would also suspect that the insistence of the government on prioritizing food aid over domestic needs was for selfish need. Critics to the US policy claimed that the unusual generosity is simply a “surplus disposal mechanism that affects prices, or that US food donations displace their commercial sales” (Iowa Farm Bureau, 2004).
Putting the house in order should be the order of the day for the United States. Although the food security issue is not quite as serious as that of the developing countries’, continued inattention and lack of focus to eradicate the problem altogether will have serious repercussions.
Traditionally, the United States government views toward welfare have always been geared towards reduction in dependence rather than poverty reduction. In capitalist societies, welfare initiatives are aimed at protecting its citizens from the impact of uncertain market forces. The United States, compared to other countries with welfare programs, conforms to market driven forces. When the American government does act to shelter individuals and families from economic hardship, it is more likely to do so in ways that conform to market principles, that is, to the idea that an individual’s life chances should be determined not by political decisions about where and how firms invest, or how income and wealth are distributed, but by that individual’s ability to work, save, and invest, and to compete in labor, commodity, and capital markets. (Noble, 1997)
The strategy of the United States towards welfare in this case is more pragmatic and proactive. Instead of encouraging dependence on the state to provide for the people, the government instead acts to improve economic conditions. Economic disharmony is one of the rationales why some Americans continue to experience food insecurity despite the perceived abundance in food production.
It is imperative that the government focuses on resolving its domestic problems first before the global quandary on food scarcity. A change in position on prioritizing domestic needs would be a welcome move. The “surplus” food supplies donated to developing nations should have been more than enough to address the hunger problem in America.
After resolving and eradicating hunger in the country, the government can gain more support from its citizens on its altruistic position to support southern countries. The American public would not hesitate to share surplus food supplies with other nations provided Americans from all sectors of society enjoy unprecedented food security and every individual shares in economic prosperity.
The government must aim to secure the food supply of the Americans before committing to contribute in the food security of the world. It would be inappropriate to prioritize the welfare of the disadvantaged Americans. Only then would the billions of dollars poured into aid related activities be more meaningful for all Americans. The disadvantaged Americans should benefit first from the “surpluses”.
The government would not have the difficulty of gaining full support for its food aid programs to support the global initiatives of the United Nations and other organizations. It would be a bit difficult t for the poorer sectors of the American society to share with other needy nations if they feel they are in the same predicament. The government can expect little resistance from the Americans especially when food aid is a motivation to improve global food security if the government resolves the issue of food security in the country.
A country with more than adequate resources to support and sustain its population without any inequities would be more effective in extending help to other needy nations. The Americans would not hinder the government’s decision to fulfill its social responsibility and obligations as a member of the global community.
Epstein, WM., (1997). Welfare in America: How Social Science fails the poor. Madison, Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin Press.
Hunger and Food Insecurity in the United States. 2006. Retrieved January 3, 2007 from: http://www.frac.org/html/hunger_in_the_us/hunger_index.html
Iowa Farm Bureau (2004), Putting food aid in perspective. Retrieved January 3, 2007 from: http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=2858
IWG and FSAC, (1999). U.S. Action plan on food security: Solutions to hunger. Retrieved January 3, 2007 from: http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/summit/usactplan.pdf
Noble, C., (1997). Welfare as we knew it: A political history of the American welfare state. New York. Oxford University Press.
Smith, G. (1978). What we got for what we gave: The American Experience With Foreign Aid. Retrieved January 3, 2007 from: http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1978/3/1978_3_64.shtml
Valentine,V. (2005). A hunger in America: Q ; A: The causes behind hunger in America. Retrieved January 3, 2007 from: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5021812