We’re told over and over that the economy is recovering but at the same time wages are being cut, unemployment is remaining high, and prices for everything from rent, gas and bills keep going up. And as a result, more and more workers in the US are struggling just to eat.
Record numbers of us need assistance to even get food on the table. In June, food stamps reached a new record – 46.7 million or roughly 1 in 5 adults, the highest number ever recorded since the program began. Only 13 percent of those on food stamps are unemployed while 47 percent actually have jobs but don’t even make enough to afford food.
Over the years, food stamp benefits have been reduced while the amount of food a family can afford has dramatically decreased. The average amount of assistance comes to about four dollars per day, just over one dollar per meal – hardly enough to live on. Basic necessities, like a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk, are at their highest prices since 2000. To make things worse, Congress is currently debating how deeply it will cut the food stamp program in the next budget.
With all the cuts to the food stamp program, and with record levels of unemployment, many families have to rely on food banks just to scrape by. But the National Food Program that supplies food banks was cut by over 40 percent last year. Many counties, including San Francisco and nine others in California, have been completely cut off from federal funding for food assistance.
So food banks and pantries are overwhelmed, having to turn people away or give less food to more people. This is at a time when donations have fallen because so many people are already tightening their belts. People who used to be the ones donating food now need to get in line.
Receiving food assistance or not, most working families are having a harder time affording food. Food is often seen as the only flexible part of our budgets. We find ways to eat cheaper and less healthy, stretch meals over longer periods of time, or skip meals completely. It’s no surprise that over 16 percent of Americans are considered what is called “food insecure” – those who cannot afford an adequate amount of food to live on.
The rest of the world is even worse off. Over one billion people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition, which translates to severe health problems and even death for millions. About one child dies every five seconds from malnutrition – that’s over 2.6 million deaths per year.
This is all happening when there isn’t an actual shortage of food. According to the United Nations, there is more than enough food grown worldwide to feed every person on the planet – actually enough to make everyone overweight. The problem is food isn’t produced to actually feed people. Food is only produced to be sold for a profit, and if a profit can’t be made off of food, then people don’t get to eat it.
Profit determines what crops are grown and what they are used for. If more money can be made producing tobacco or cotton, then acres of land will be destroyed to grow these instead of food. If more money can be made turning corn into ethanol, then food will be turned into fuel. If more money can be made destroying food to keep the prices high, then agriculture companies will do just that.
Worldwide one third of the global supply of food is wasted every year. In the US, it’s even higher with 40 percent of food wasted. This isn’t just big farms – think of every grocery company and restaurant chain that destroys perfectly edible food that they don’t sell.
One billion people shouldn’t go hungry because a corporation won’t make enough money feeding them. Feeding hungry people isn’t even part of the equation. How much more proof could be needed that this economic system is not set up to actually feed people – in fact, it’s not even set up for human beings at all. In this society, food is for profit, not for eating.