Food Network's Hunger Games

The Food Network is currently promoting a crusade to end childhood hunger in America. Had the Food Network not been relentless promoters of the Obamas, I could almost see this as an ironic comment on the utter lack of appeal of the food being produced in schools across America in the First Lady's name.   But the Food Network is serious.  In their holiday promotion their spokespeople cite the much-debunked statistic that one in five children in America goes hungry on a regular basis.  .

Something is truly out of whack here.  If one in five American children are going hungry how can there also be an epidemic of obesity that requires the downsizing the heavily subsidized public school lunch program to help correct?   Basic observation indicates the children of the affluent are neither overweight nor emaciated.  If anything, many middle class children tend to look a little pudgy, while a great many of the children of the welfare class and the working poor are noticeably obese.  So who and where are those twenty percent of American children who go hungry? 

This one-in-five-children-go-hungry claim has been around for over two decades.  I recall it was the subject of a short film when I was on a panel that judged documentaries for the Chicago Film Festival in the 1990s.

Shortly before that film festival I had been reading about how answers to survey questions were being twisted by activists.  Two examples stuck in my mind over the years. One was how feminists based a claim about rape on college campuses upon answers to the question "Have you ever felt pressured into having sex when you didn't really want to?"  The second question I remember asked parents "How many times a month do your children complain there is nothing to eat?" and then used the answer to calculate how many children might be going hungry.  A complaint there is nothing to eat can be highly subjective.  When I was growing up my mother fixed me three square meals every day.  Still, I recall often complaining in exactly those words, "Ma, there is nothing in the house to eat!" whenever we were out of chips, cookies or ice cream bars. 

What is an activist to do?  The image of a child obese from breakfasts of Hostess HoHos or dinners of tortilla chips micro waved with Cheese Whiz, consumed while sitting in front of a large screen TV does not tug at donors' heartstrings. Nor is it easy to raise money for programs to help reeducate taste buds away from the calorie dense dishes found in Southern soul food and Mexican peasant cooking that were enjoyed by grandparents who spent long days outdoors doing physically demanding labor. One game that is played is to bait donors with claims about hunger to fund programs that are about changing nutritional habits. The activists count on people who don't distinguish among the concepts of malnutrition and poor food choices and that of actual hunger.

Three years ago economist Paul Roderick Gregory addressed these inflated claims about hunger.  He found the one in five number was likely to be a misuse of data from the annual survey of the USDA that classifies households as "food secure,” “food insecure,” and “very low food secure.”  According to the USDA a household is  “food insecure” if they report a combination of three behaviors: worrying about not having money to buy food, substituting cheaper foods, or if financial concerns cause them to occasionally skip a meal or to eat smaller meals.  Note the term hungry is not used in this survey nor does it directly attempt to measure hunger. The survey measures the anxiety people have about being hungry. 

Gregory concluded

Slightly over 21 percent of households are “food insecure.” This is the one-in-five statistic we hear from the media and advocacy groups.

The one-in-five figure is for all households, many of which consist only of adults. If we limit the sample to households with children, ten percent of them are classified as food insecure. If any group wishes to use the broadest possible measure of children’s “struggle for food,” the ten percent figure would be it.

Notably, weekly spending on food by the median “food insecure” household is 95 percent of the cost of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan -- the minimum cost of an affordable and healthy diet. It seems that another five cents on the dollar separates 16.2 million hungry children from a healthy diet.

Not publicized by the childhood hunger lobby are the USDA’s most direct measures of childhood hunger. They reveal that between one and two percent of families “cut the size of children’s meals” or report that “children were hungry” or “skipped meals.” And only one tenth of one percent of families reported that “children did not eat for a whole day.” These findings do not suggest, to say the least, an epidemic of childhood hunger. The USDA’s most direct measures yield a childhood hunger rate between one and two in a hundred, not one in five.

A wealthy nation like the United States should have no hungry children. The USDA figures show that we are close to this ideal. That “food insecure” families spend almost enough to buy the government’s suggested minimum balanced diet tells us that the problem is poor food choice, not hunger per se.

Let's illustrate these findings.

The activists claim these are how many American children regularly go hungry.

XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

 

The USDA says these are how many American households with children have parents who worry about having enough food for them.

XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

 

The USDA says these are how many American households with children occasionally have to eat a reduced amount or even skip a meal.

XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

 

The USDA says this is how many American households with children who report that the children may have to go an entire day without food.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

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The federal food stamp program is decades old.  So are free school meals.  Many charities and churches run food banks, especially over the winter months when heating costs eat up cash that might have to come from the grocery budget.  Given the wide variety of food assistance available, I am going to be so bold as to suggest at least some of the those children who make up the one tenth of one percent who suffer actual shortages of food may, in fact, not be victims not of a shortage of food, Rather they are victims of parental negligence and even intentional neglect -- conditions in which mental illness and substance abuse often play a large factor. 

The activists tend not to mention the cases on which the children are hungry because the parent spent their time, money and government assistance on other things.  They prefer to beat up on capitalism and the purported lack of compassion of the well to do. They also like to prey upon well meaning people who don't tend to analyze the causes before they pull out the checkbook or log into Paypal.

Back in the 90s I had to argue with other panel members about that documentary on hungry children. They found it effective and wanted to recognize it.  I found it mendacious.  I won the argument when I noted that there had recently been a blockbuster local story about an emaciated child.  The preschool aged boy had been removed from the custody of his drug-addicted mother who had intentionally withheld food.  I pointed out if the one in five figure on hunger among American children was even remotely correct, emaciated children would be far too common for one to become major front page news stories. We would all see them with our own eyes when we drive around town.

We are entering the time of year when there are a great many solicitations being made.  Some of the causes are worthy. Some are frivolous, designed more to make the donors feel good about themselves than to solve a real problem.  A few are misleading and even downright deceptive.  With the internet it is now easier to determine which organizations address real problems, as well as which charities have efficient organization centered upon programs rather than fundraising and lobbying the government.  During the holiday season there will be many public service announcements telling people not to drink before they drive.  We could use some that tell people to always think before they give to various causes, because many are not what they purport to be.  

The Food Network is currently promoting a crusade to end childhood hunger in America. Had the Food Network not been relentless promoters of the Obamas, I could almost see this as an ironic comment on the utter lack of appeal of the food being produced in schools across America in the First Lady's name.   But the Food Network is serious.  In their holiday promotion their spokespeople cite the much-debunked statistic that one in five children in America goes hungry on a regular basis.  .

Something is truly out of whack here.  If one in five American children are going hungry how can there also be an epidemic of obesity that requires the downsizing the heavily subsidized public school lunch program to help correct?   Basic observation indicates the children of the affluent are neither overweight nor emaciated.  If anything, many middle class children tend to look a little pudgy, while a great many of the children of the welfare class and the working poor are noticeably obese.  So who and where are those twenty percent of American children who go hungry? 

This one-in-five-children-go-hungry claim has been around for over two decades.  I recall it was the subject of a short film when I was on a panel that judged documentaries for the Chicago Film Festival in the 1990s.

Shortly before that film festival I had been reading about how answers to survey questions were being twisted by activists.  Two examples stuck in my mind over the years. One was how feminists based a claim about rape on college campuses upon answers to the question "Have you ever felt pressured into having sex when you didn't really want to?"  The second question I remember asked parents "How many times a month do your children complain there is nothing to eat?" and then used the answer to calculate how many children might be going hungry.  A complaint there is nothing to eat can be highly subjective.  When I was growing up my mother fixed me three square meals every day.  Still, I recall often complaining in exactly those words, "Ma, there is nothing in the house to eat!" whenever we were out of chips, cookies or ice cream bars. 

What is an activist to do?  The image of a child obese from breakfasts of Hostess HoHos or dinners of tortilla chips micro waved with Cheese Whiz, consumed while sitting in front of a large screen TV does not tug at donors' heartstrings. Nor is it easy to raise money for programs to help reeducate taste buds away from the calorie dense dishes found in Southern soul food and Mexican peasant cooking that were enjoyed by grandparents who spent long days outdoors doing physically demanding labor. One game that is played is to bait donors with claims about hunger to fund programs that are about changing nutritional habits. The activists count on people who don't distinguish among the concepts of malnutrition and poor food choices and that of actual hunger.

Three years ago economist Paul Roderick Gregory addressed these inflated claims about hunger.  He found the one in five number was likely to be a misuse of data from the annual survey of the USDA that classifies households as "food secure,” “food insecure,” and “very low food secure.”  According to the USDA a household is  “food insecure” if they report a combination of three behaviors: worrying about not having money to buy food, substituting cheaper foods, or if financial concerns cause them to occasionally skip a meal or to eat smaller meals.  Note the term hungry is not used in this survey nor does it directly attempt to measure hunger. The survey measures the anxiety people have about being hungry. 

Gregory concluded

Slightly over 21 percent of households are “food insecure.” This is the one-in-five statistic we hear from the media and advocacy groups.

The one-in-five figure is for all households, many of which consist only of adults. If we limit the sample to households with children, ten percent of them are classified as food insecure. If any group wishes to use the broadest possible measure of children’s “struggle for food,” the ten percent figure would be it.

Notably, weekly spending on food by the median “food insecure” household is 95 percent of the cost of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan -- the minimum cost of an affordable and healthy diet. It seems that another five cents on the dollar separates 16.2 million hungry children from a healthy diet.

Not publicized by the childhood hunger lobby are the USDA’s most direct measures of childhood hunger. They reveal that between one and two percent of families “cut the size of children’s meals” or report that “children were hungry” or “skipped meals.” And only one tenth of one percent of families reported that “children did not eat for a whole day.” These findings do not suggest, to say the least, an epidemic of childhood hunger. The USDA’s most direct measures yield a childhood hunger rate between one and two in a hundred, not one in five.

A wealthy nation like the United States should have no hungry children. The USDA figures show that we are close to this ideal. That “food insecure” families spend almost enough to buy the government’s suggested minimum balanced diet tells us that the problem is poor food choice, not hunger per se.

Let's illustrate these findings.

The activists claim these are how many American children regularly go hungry.

XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

 

The USDA says these are how many American households with children have parents who worry about having enough food for them.

XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

 

The USDA says these are how many American households with children occasionally have to eat a reduced amount or even skip a meal.

XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX

 

The USDA says this is how many American households with children who report that the children may have to go an entire day without food.

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX 

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

The federal food stamp program is decades old.  So are free school meals.  Many charities and churches run food banks, especially over the winter months when heating costs eat up cash that might have to come from the grocery budget.  Given the wide variety of food assistance available, I am going to be so bold as to suggest at least some of the those children who make up the one tenth of one percent who suffer actual shortages of food may, in fact, not be victims not of a shortage of food, Rather they are victims of parental negligence and even intentional neglect -- conditions in which mental illness and substance abuse often play a large factor. 

The activists tend not to mention the cases on which the children are hungry because the parent spent their time, money and government assistance on other things.  They prefer to beat up on capitalism and the purported lack of compassion of the well to do. They also like to prey upon well meaning people who don't tend to analyze the causes before they pull out the checkbook or log into Paypal.

Back in the 90s I had to argue with other panel members about that documentary on hungry children. They found it effective and wanted to recognize it.  I found it mendacious.  I won the argument when I noted that there had recently been a blockbuster local story about an emaciated child.  The preschool aged boy had been removed from the custody of his drug-addicted mother who had intentionally withheld food.  I pointed out if the one in five figure on hunger among American children was even remotely correct, emaciated children would be far too common for one to become major front page news stories. We would all see them with our own eyes when we drive around town.

We are entering the time of year when there are a great many solicitations being made.  Some of the causes are worthy. Some are frivolous, designed more to make the donors feel good about themselves than to solve a real problem.  A few are misleading and even downright deceptive.  With the internet it is now easier to determine which organizations address real problems, as well as which charities have efficient organization centered upon programs rather than fundraising and lobbying the government.  During the holiday season there will be many public service announcements telling people not to drink before they drive.  We could use some that tell people to always think before they give to various causes, because many are not what they purport to be.