More than thirty-eight million people live in poverty in America and thirty-seven million struggle with hunger, according to the hunger relief organization Feeding America. Despite our nation’s status as the world’s top food exporter, our own citizens are going hungry.
Many of these individuals have families and children who are currently facing food insecurity. There are some programs that work to counteract this: From free or reduced-cost school lunches and SNAP welfare programs, to volunteer-based food banks and hunger-relief nonprofits.
While these initiatives are helping millions of Americans each year, many are still without an adequate source of nutrition. The US is one of the richest countries in the world, yet has arguably the worst hunger problem within its comparable ranks.
This quandary is often associated with our high degree of income inequality. While those who are food insecure may be employed, there may not be enough funds to cover the extent of food costs for their households. Hunger is usually not an isolated problem. Low-income Americans may also struggle with housing, healthcare, or education costs.
While some families are unfamiliar with the hardship and anxiety that comes with food insecurity, the issue affects every single county within the nation. Even if individuals have enough food to survive, they may not have the nutrition to adequately support a healthy and active lifestyle. The cost of nourishing or organic foods may be out of reach for some, forcing them to rely on fast food and processed goods.
This is not a rare issue that only impacts sporadic cases of extreme poverty. It can also affect those who do not qualify for means-tested programs. These programs have an income and asset limit that cut off those who make too much money to qualify for the programs. While these individuals may be struggling to put food on the table and are seeking government assistance, they do not have any access.
Whether Americans struggle to provide nutritious food with or without help from government programs, these individuals and their families are going hungry. But food is a right, not a privilege. Without it, our country suffers; the lack of food negatively impacts physical health, educational outcomes, and social ascension.
Over the past weekend, I volunteered at a soup kitchen with a friend and witnessed some of this food insecurity. I talked to a few individuals, some of whom are regulars throughout the week and others who only need assistance every once in a while. There were a few in retirement, some young families with children, and another individual who proudly shared how he secured his very first apartment. But they were all hungry.
As UMass heads into Thanksgiving break, a lot of students are looking forward to visiting with family and enjoying a hot meal. While some of our tables will be covered with a large turkey, mashed potatoes, and a vast assortment of pies, other plates in America may not be as full.
While we may mention our gratitude each time we wish each other a happy Thanksgiving, this year I ask that you try to ponder what privileges—and rights—you get to enjoy that others may not. This shouldn’t diminish any time you spend with family at the dinner table, but it may help shape your gratitude and your actions surrounding this injustice.
Whether you choose to donate your time or resources to a local soup kitchen, vote consciously for candidates who prioritize this issue, or simply say an extra “thank you” to whoever cooks your Thanksgiving dinner, any steps in recognizing the problem are helpful. While this may be a large-scale issue, spreading awareness or making individual contributions are crucial steps in catalyzing change.