June 7th, 2016

Hunger in the U.S. has skyrocketed, increasing five fold since the 1960s, and by nearly sixty percent since the late 1990s. Now defined as “food insecure,” one in seven households in the United States did not have enough food to eat in the last year. What these hungry or food insecure households look like has changed as well. Over half of today’s hungry households are suburban, with at least one adult employed full time, and most are chronically overweight with a high risk of developing type two diabetes. Low wages have forced many full time employees to qualify for SNAP benefits (previously referred to as food stamps), with almost 50 million Americans receiving these benefits monthly. Despite this hike in numbers, federal budget cuts have lowered the average award per meal to under $1.50, creating an increased prevalence and reliance on food banks. The number of food banks in the US has risen from a few hundred in the 1960s, to over 50,000, with half of those served using the food banks on a regular basis. But the problem of hunger in the U.S. today is double edged. It is not only access to food, but what kind of food people can buy and receive from their SNAP benefits and food banks.

Since the 1980s, the real price of fruit has risen by 24% while the price of sugary drinks like soda has dropped 27 percent. Since 1995 the government has spent almost twenty billion dollars subsidizing “commodity crops” like corn and soybeans which are used to sweeten and fatten processed food. In that same time, apples (the only fruit to be awarded a substantial government subsidy) have received only $689 million. This influences what people can afford to buy with their SNAP benefits and what is economically feasible for food banks with which to stock their shelves. A healthy meal is now three times more expensive than a processed meal, and the effects of this are obvious. At current rates one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050. Our current system has given a new face to hunger, one masked behind high fructose corn syrup, white carbs, and empty calories.

Annamarie Hufford-Bucklin, Triskeles Intern