With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of us turn our thoughts towards the dinner table. This Thanksgiving, let’s all take a moment to turn our hearts and minds towards those Americans who aren’t fortunate enough to have a turkey on the table and who suffer from hunger.
Today, I’m going to talk about why the United States should take action to end our hunger crisis.
It is our moral responsibility to help the hungry. Many people are not religious and that is their right. But it’s true that many of our moral teachings come from religion. Feeding the hungry is like loving your neighbor. All religions demand we do it.
According to scholar Susan Holman of Harvard University, “[c]are for the poor and hungry was part of Christian worship and service from the beginning. Sunday services in second-century Rome included a collection for the poor, orphans, widows, the sick, prisoners, strangers, and all in need.” Chapters 13.4-13.5 of the Didache declare that regular food collections for both the clergy and the poor must be part of worship. In Catholicism, feeding the hungry is the first of the Corporal Works of Mercy, which every Catholic is expected to perform.
Judaism also speaks to the moral obligation to feed the hungry. In Leviticus, God says that when you harvest the land, you must leave the edges of your field untouched for the poor and the stranger. The Jewish Talmud, or rabbinic commentary, says each Jewish community must establish a public fund to feed the hungry.
Buddhists believe it is moral to feed the hungry. They have established a charitable organization called Buddhist Global Relief, which feeds the hungry around the world. American Buddhists in California, for example, also sponsor walks to raise funds for the hungry every October.
Islamic texts also state that we must feed the hungry. The Prophet Muhammad, the holiest man in all of Islam, said: “He is not a Muslim who goes to bed satiated while his neighbor goes hungry.”
Health and well-being
Hunger damages the health and social well-being of the poor.
According to a study by the Food Research Action Center, food insecurity is linked to obesity in poor women. Researcher Christine Olson of Cornell University also found that because healthier foods are more expensive, America’s hungry have to resort to cheap fast food, which leads to higher rates of obesity and even heart disease.
Dr. Mark Nord of the Department of Agriculture has said that hunger is linked to an increase in type-2 diabetes. The Journal of the American Medical Association has said that due to lack of nourishment, the hungry are more likely to need emergency healthcare, placing a burden on both their pocketbook and the public healthcare system.
Hunger can lead to violence in poor neighborhoods. In Mexico, for instance, when the price of food got too high in 2007, there were massive “tortilla riots” that destroyed and devastated poor communities.
According to a report by the Center for American Progress, “hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to lost economic productivity, poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed.”
Our children suffer terrible consequences from America’s hunger problem. 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011. That’s 22.4% of all American children. Both New Mexico and the District of Columbia had over 30% of their children living without consistent access to food. That’s more than double the amount of kids who have cancer, ADHD, and diabetes- combined.
In 2011, 47% of all households on food stamps contained children. According to the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, half of all American children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives. During the year 2011, more than 31 million low-income children received free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program.
Children in food-insecure households are less able to resist illness and are more likely to be hospitalized. Hunger also increases their risk for brain damage, stunting, iodine deficiency, and anemia. According to the organization Share Our Strength’s study, teachers report that hungry kids have higher rates of headaches, stomachaches, and colds, leading to a lack of focus in the classroom and bad grades. 53% of teachers even have had to buy food for hungry kids in their classrooms.
The Center for American Progress calculated that the impact of being held back in school due to hunger resulted in $6.9 billion in lost income for 2009 dropouts.
Time to act
In conclusion, we must do what we can to help us end the hunger crisis. We should donate to organizations like Manna. We should volunteer at a food bank. And we must tell our congressmen to fight for a just economy so people don’t have to worry about having enough to eat on Thanksgiving or any day of the year.