Photo from Flickr/StevenBrisson. Creative Commons.
"Hunger in America is complicated. It's not just getting enough food, but getting the right food and making the right choices."
That's the premise of a two-part NPR story on hunger and poverty in America. The author spends time with the Williamsons, a Pennsylvania family of five who live below the poverty line. As they exhibit, hunger not a simple issue. The Williamsons' 8-year-old son, for example, looks chubby, but the calories he consumes are not nutritious. Why? Because those empty, nutrition-scarce calories (i.e., junk food) are cheaper than healthier foods.
"You can get leaner cuts of meat, but then they're more expensive," [Connie Williamson] says. "You can get fresh fruit every couple of days and blow half of your budget on fresh fruits and vegetables in a week's time, easy."
But, you argue, wouldn't a garden with fresh vegetables solve everything? The Williamsons live in an apartment complex, and yet they still do find a place for a small garden. But a garden doesn't balance out the cheap, sugary snacks and drinks available to kids.
All of this is part of a larger trend of food insecurity, especially among children. The number of children living in households where getting enough food to eat was a challenge hit a staggering 17 million in 2008, a more than 30 percent jump, year-over-year, according to NPR.
So what are the poor in America to do? Should they refrain from buying the empty calories, even though that's what is available in their price range? Should kids be learning better eating habits at school as well as at home? Or have healthy, whole foods become a status symbol, only available to those who live in the right areas and with enough money?