Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Growing Up Empty"

We looked at Loretta Schwartz-Nobel's book, Growing Up Empty: The Hunger Epidemic in America, at this month's Urban Engagement Book Club.

Schwartz-Nobel traveled and visited with all sorts of people in all kinds of places to get at the growing reality of hunger in America.

Middle class hunger.

Long-term, generational poverty and hunger.

Hunger among the working poor.

Hunger on the streets among the homeless.

Hunger and immigrants.

Even, if you can imagine it, a look at the very real problem of hunger among U. S. military families.

She is a great writer. The book is a sobering read. Her words move the reader at a very deep level.

But, does anyone care?

Here's what she has to say about hunger and the impact of public policy on its growth:

My strongest drive is to convey the fact that as federal aid is slashed, suffering and hunger increases among us and that as federal aid increases, hunger proportionately decreases. It is to show that, urgent and admirable as they are, all the grassroots efforts and all the food resuce efforts of the last quarter century still haven't defeated hunger in America because they alone can't make up for the shortfall caused by cuts in government programs.

That does not mean that we should stop our individual or group efforts. I know now, from personal experience, even on the smallest scale, every family's food stamps and each of our independent acts of giving can mean the difference between life and death. The answers will come from our collective action as a nation, from our politicians' responses, and from the individual things that every one of us does. It means not forgetting. It means spreading the word by telling those who don't already know. It means not turning from the people who need us and the work we were meant to do.
(pages 32-33)

Our day-to-day experience here at Central Dallas Ministries confirms the analysis provided in Growing Up Empty.

Hunger is on the rise. Our numbers are up 41% over this time last year!

Food security is in decline.

Does anyone notice?

(Go to to learn more about our monthly book club and discussion group now attracting around 100 participants each meeting.)


Joey said...

I like your blog. A friend directed me here a few months ago and it has been great to see the dialogue of development from your perspective. Thanks

Eric Livingston said...

Does Loretta Schwartz-Nobel present an ideal dollar amount that the federal government should allocate to fight domestic hunger and poverty? I'm wondering if studies have been done to target an amount of money that would solve America's hunger problem. If the U.S. was willing to fix its hunger problem, how much money would it cost?

I know organizations like suggest 1% of Americas budget would go a long way towards fighting world poverty, but do you think this is a realistic number?

I'm asking out of ignorance. I have no idea what the cost of ending hunger in America would be - or if it's possible at all.

I do care. I do notice. I'm just not sure how to fix the problem, beyond sharing food with people whom I see are in need.

Larry James said...

Joey, thanks for your kindness.

Eric, thanks for the thoughtful question. I don't think she lays out a specific number. However, she does provide analysis of the past when as a nation we did much better at driving down poverty and when we were spending a larger portion of our funds on the issues associated with poverty. It is a good read, if you are interested in learning more of the human faces of poverty.

Justin said...


Just wondering what the definition of hunger is in the united states. I had heard (though this may have been from Rush Limbaugh) that hunger was defined as missing one meal a day on average.

I don't see how just donating money will ever "solve" hunger. Especially worldwide, its a problem that isn't just a lack of money thing. Undeveloped nations have huge populations, and continue to grow numbers-wise, but because they have a primitive system of farming, etc, they can't feed themselves. The answer isn't just aid. I think the answer for those people lies in sceintific development and capitalism, but that's a different story. Regardless, we need to do something, whether its sending money or coming up with other solutions. We have a responsibility to help the poor.

Larry James said...

Thanks, Justin. Yes, internationally and even here at home, the problem is systemic, not just individual. Land ownership issues are huge, as it the quality of government and the status of democracy. Here in the US issues like wages, property ownership, health, transporation, education all come into play. All of these factors bring us back to economics, justice and poverty. That in turn brings us back to access to capital. . .money or the lack thereof. Charity will never be the answer. A fairer brand of capitalism in democratic states will get us closer to the goal.

Jeremy Gregg said...

Justin, I am not sure what the definition of hunger is, but here are some thoughts:

- Skipping an average of one meal per day means that a person is getting 1/3 of the nutrition that they need.
- For many, especially children, the missing meal is breakfast. That means less energy to get through the day, which means a lower ability to pay attention and "do well" in school.
- I think that the definition of a hunger problem is when one simply lacks the resources to meet 100% of one's hunger needs. The problem with the poor in America is not necessarily that they don't have anything: it's that they don't have enough to meet their basic needs.

No one should have to choose between feeding one's children and paying the rent. For millions of families in America, that is a daily choice.

It should not happen in a country likes ours.

Justin said...


I'd like to see the stats that say how many people are having to choose between paying the rent and feeding their kids.

Maybe this is a just a stereotype, and I would ask larry to clarify, but how much child hunger is a result of lack of resources and how much is just bad decisions of parents? We have food stamps to pay for poor people's food. We have food banks. Soup kitchens. We have housing projects (while often run down and dangerous, are these facilities not given for little or no rent?)

And another question... how is it that poor people tend to be overweight in similar or even greater numbers of those in different social classes? Does it have to do with cheaper food being bad for you or bad decisions of types of food to consume? I coudl imagine it being pretty awkward for someone in africa to see a "poor" person in America who weighs 200+ pounds when they are lucky to get one meal a day.