They’re Not Really Hungry

The conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation has released a grinchy little report on hunger in America just in time for the holidays.

Written by Heritage domestic policy senior research fellow Robert Rector and titled “Hunger Hysteria,” the report riffs off the USDA’s report on food insecurity. It urges you not to waste your time worrying about the “food insecure” because the real problem with food-insecure adults isn’t that they are taking in too few calories; it’s that they are growing fat by eating too much junk food. Food stamps just cause the poor to eat more junk food and get fatter, the report asserts, so expanding that program would be counterproductive. And besides, junk foods like soft drinks and doughnuts are more expensive than healthy foods like milk and vegetables, so maybe we should give people less money so they can only afford to buy cheaper staples like rice and beans.

James Ridgeway, writing in Mother Jones, has taken on the Heritage’s report in a piece titled “Heritage Foundation on Hunger: Let Them Eat Broccoli.” He quotes obesity researcher Adam Drewnowski:

Drewnowski calls Rector’s arguments ‘rubbish, written from a position of class privilege ….’ He cites the suggestion that the poor should purchase cheap, nutritious foods rather than processed stuff. ‘When you suggest that people buy rice, pasta, and beans,’ he says, ‘you presuppose that they have resources … a kitchen, pots, pans, utensils, gas, electricity, a refrigerator, a home with rent paid, the time to cook. ... So this is all about resources that middle-class people take so much for granted that they do not give them another thought. Not everybody has them.’

Ridgeway goes on to recap the recent history of food stamp cuts, as well as report on a recent study showing that while the prices for the healthiest foods have gone up by 20 percent in the past two years, the prices for junk foods have actually gone down a bit.

With so many middle-class families a paycheck or two away from financial crisis, urging cuts in food stamp programs seems like a good way to take the food right out of needy families’ mouths.

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