"What Food Says About Class in America: Divided We Eat"

As you begin your prep for Thanksgiving, maybe you think about the less fortunate for a day or two, donate old, generic canned goods and then get back to the details of your own family feast. However, food insecurity is a real and pressing issue for millions of individuals.

In the U.S., still deemed an affluent country, millions of individuals don't know where to find their next meal. Hunger and malnutrition demand our attention for longer than the winter holiday season when charity becomes a forced concept rather than voluntary one. Sure, some people can perhaps buy their way out - via organic, local or insert any other foodie, ethical buzzword - and, while they shouldn't be knocked for making the effort, our food system remains extremely divided.

Here's an expert from "Divided We Eat" by Lisa Miller, contributor at Newsweek that puts the issue into perspective. (There may be some statistics that local food advocates have already seen, however, the evidence is still alarming.)

According to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17 percent of Americans—more than 50 million people—live in households that are “food insecure,” a term that means a family sometimes runs out of money to buy food, or it sometimes runs out of food before it can get more money. Food insecurity is especially high in households headed by a single mother. It is most severe in the South, and in big cities. In New York City, 1.4 million people are food insecure, and 257,000 of them live near me, in Brooklyn. Food insecurity is linked, of course, to other economic measures like housing and employment, so it surprised no one that the biggest surge in food insecurity since the agency established the measure in 1995 occurred between 2007 and 2008, at the start of the economic downturn. (The 2009 numbers, released last week, showed little change.) The proportion of households that qualify as “hungry”—with what the USDA calls “very low food security”—is small, about 6 percent. Reflected against the obsessive concerns of the foodies in my circle, and the glare of attention given to the plight of the poor and hungry abroad, even a fraction of starving children in America seems too high.
Mine seems on some level like a naive complaint. There have always been rich people and poor people in America and, in a capitalist economy, the well-to-do have always had the freedom to indulge themselves as they please. In hard times, food has always marked a bright border between the haves and the have-nots. In the earliest days of the Depression, as the poor waited on bread lines, the middle and upper classes in America became devoted to fad diets. Followers of the Hollywood 18-Day Diet, writes Harvey Levenstein in his 1993 book Paradox of Plenty,“could live on fewer than six hundred calories a day by limiting each meal to half a grapefruit, melba toast, coffee without cream or sugar, and, at lunch and dinner, some raw vegetables.”
But modern America is a place of extremes, and what you eat for dinner has become the definitive marker of social status; as the distance between rich and poor continues to grow, the freshest, most nutritious foods have become luxury goods that only some can afford. Among the lowest quintile of American families, mean household income has held relatively steady between $10,000 and $13,000 for the past two decades (in inflation-adjusted dollars); among the highest, income has jumped 20 percent to $170,800 over the same period, according to census data. What this means, in practical terms, is that the richest Americans can afford to buy berries out of season at Whole Foods—the upscale grocery chain that recently reported a 58 percent increase in its quarterly profits—while the food insecure often eat what they can: highly caloric, mass-produced foods like pizza and packaged cakes that fill them up quickly. The number of Americans on food stamps has surged by 58.5 percent over the last three years.

Click here to read the article and hopefully feel inspired to do something, or at the very least, start a discussion.