Who Will Feed Our Children?

Food insecurity has become a fact of life in America. A grinding economic recession coupled with sharp cutbacks in local and state government spending has resulted in a dramatic crisis in the most necessary of acts – eating. According to a Nov. 2009 report by the US Department of Agriculture, 50 million or 1 in 6 Americans, struggled to feed themselves and their children in 2008. This is the highest number of people facing food insecurity since the first study of its kind was conducted in 1995 and an increase of 3.5% from 2007. Food deprivation is not, as in many parts of the underdeveloped world, chronic, but those impacted face periodic cutbacks and shortages of essential food.

Children were particularly at risk, as nearly 200,000 more households with children slipped into the food insecure category since 2007. Unemployment, low wage jobs, declines in food pantry supplies and cuts in state and local food programs, all produced negative outcomes for children. As the economic downturn moves from crisis to permanent reality, a frightening question emerges. Who will feed our children?

Child Nutrition as Budgetary Football

If it is up to Democrats in Connecticut children will be fed a little. Republicans, a little less. The wrangling that occurred around this year’s Connecticut state budget offers ample evidence of the precariousness of children’s food security inside of an economic recession. Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell proposed to slash the state’s Healthy Food Program for children by more than $2 million per year or 50% of its annual budget. The Healthy Food Program was designed to improve the types of food offered by school meal programs by replacing processed and high-sodium foods with fresh vegetables. 114 school districts participate and were rewarded with an extra ten cents for every school lunch served to insure improved nutrition. Cities such as New Haven received more than $280,000 per year in funding to raise the nutritional levels of school meals. Such school meal programs feed thousands of children each year, of whom, according to End Hunger.

Connecticut one in five under the age of twelve are hungry or at risk of going hungry. School officials claim school lunch is the only meal of the day for many children.

Democrats, of course, led the charge against Rell’s proposal to gut the program. Senator Martin Looney presented the question as one of asking “students to sacrifice instead of millionaires.” Seemingly infuriated, Dems even took to holding a press conference to blast Rell in a community garden, surrounded by kale and tomato plants. However, a closer examination of the Democrats budget proposals reveals that they propose a nearly equally devastating 25% cut to the Healthy Food Program. Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to have much interest in the fate of Connecticut’s hungry children. Both seem willing to horse trade away childhood nutrition in a state where, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, income inequality has grown rapidly in the past two decades.

Eating Away at the State

As the Connecticut case illustrates, the quality and availability of food for children is linked to funding for state and local programs. Unfortunately, it is these very same local budgets that have been among the hardest hit by the recent economic recession and nearly two decades of neoliberal approaches to taxation. Taxation rates for the top 5% of income earners declined rapidly on state, local and federal levels, first in the 1980s and then again in the late 1990s, as market fundamentalist ideology took hold. The massive economic crisis that ensued in 2008 merely antagonized the existing trends toward state insolvency. Food programs for children, especially those administered through schools, have become ripe targets for budget cutters both Democrat and Republican.

Proposals for state and local budget cuts are almost universal in America these days. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that 42 states have enacted cutbacks in the last year. Healthcare, services to the elderly and education are the three main targets. At least 26 states are implementing cuts to K-12 education programs, including Illinois whose cuts will make more than 10,000 children ineligible for early childhood education and Massachusetts, which carried out deep cuts on a number of early care programs. It should be remembered that each of these cuts serves to distance a child from what is often a main source of nutrition – school food programs.

Most of these children will then have to rely on private food pantries that are often run by religious organizations. This strategy has been a part of government planning since the first Clinton presidency that “ended welfare as we know it,” by gutting government-based assistance programs. The trend away from the state was later institutionalized by President George W. Bush as a part of his “faith-based initiatives” program. Bush argued that religious institutions should be allowed to compete for government contracts, especially in regard to social programs. This jibed with the Clinton and Bush notion that private-sector volunteerism and philanthropy could resolve social problems – the charitable flip-side of market fundamentalism.

Now the returns are in. Deep income inequality, gutted state and local welfare plans and stagnant wages produce only one social outcome – millions of people forced into precarious positions. As volunteers at the Interfaith Emergency Services and Warehouse in Ocala, Florida are finding out, no amount of charitable contributions can make up for such stark structural inequalities. After demand for food increased more than 400% since 2007, the pantry instituted a new rule that limits families to one visit for food every 60, instead of 30, days. Despite the restriction, pantry managers describe the lack of food as “downright scary.” Directors at the nearby Brother’s Keeper pantry forced recipients to choose between getting a food basket for Thanksgiving or Christmas. 125 families chose Thanksgiving and 175 Christmas. Such brutal decisions are being made all over the country and children are often forced to bear the brunt of them.

A Socialist Twist – Unleash the Working Class

Current President Barack Obama has promised to end child hunger by 2015. However, things have gone backwards in his first year with even more children facing the excruciating pain of going to bed hungry. How can this problem be solved? The relatively mainstream Food Research and Action Center offers an interesting seven point plan. Top of their list is the need to break through an economy built on low-wage employment. “Good jobs with benefits,” they argue, “will help many more families fully meet their children’s needs.” To help accomplish this, they recommend the extension of earned income tax credits to low income households so that these workers may keep more of their meager salaries. A more radical plan seems in order.

There is no greater insurance of good jobs than a militant trade union movement. Building power on our worksites will, far more than temporary state-based programs for relief or private charities, create a positive social dynamic leading to more permanent increases in wages and an extension of benefits. The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would allow more working people to gain unions representation in order to secure the wages necessary to better feed their children. This combined with iron-clad commitments to fund social welfare programs, particularly those targeted at child food programs, and a Federal jobs-for-all program to sop up unemployment, promises to put a major dent in food insecurity. Unleashing the power of working people to create a more just society through their own self-activity would also mean issuing a death sentence to the ideology that has starved our children – neoliberalism. Only then will we know that our children, all our children, will be fed.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: whartonbilly@gmail.com. Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on November 30th, 2009 at 10:54am #

    Children going hungry signifies an anarchical system of rule. Or it is an omen that the sytem looks after some people better than after some other people.
    It is also an ominous sign that the system cannot be changed.
    It signifies that it wld never ever change by or of its own accord. The system had been with us for millennia; it is strongly institutionalized and protected by paid gunmen. Hey, kids, forget ab words.
    Every US town had a sherrif; his job was to make sure that the will of the people who paid him prevails. Actually, the sherrif had been paid by people and not so much by mayor or bosses of the town.
    And such system is alive today in every US city and town. tnx

  2. Deadbeat said on November 30th, 2009 at 12:10pm #

    Children going hungry signifies an anarchical system of rule.

    bozh, no disrespect but you consume a lot of bandwidth on DV yet too often I just don’t understand what the hell you are trying to say. Your first sentence would come as a surprise to many anarchists. Anarchists are decidedly anti-capitalists and are welcomed as comrades. They have a long tradition and while there are differences between them and Marxist regarding their approach to revolution anarchists clearly desire the same outcomes — overthrow of capitalism which means the end of poverty and the redistribution of power.

  3. Don Hawkins said on November 30th, 2009 at 4:42pm #

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2009/20091130_FightingSpirit.pdf

    James Hansen and does this have anything to do with feeding children, oh yes it sure does.

  4. Don Hawkins said on November 30th, 2009 at 4:57pm #

    Are we going to stand up and give global politicians a hard slap in the face, to make them
    face the truth? It will take a lot of us – probably in the streets. Or are we going to let them
    continue to kid themselves and us, and cheat our children and grandchildren?
    Intergenerational inequity is a moral issue. Just as when Abraham Lincoln faced slavery
    and when Winston Churchill faced Nazism, the time for compromises and half-measures is over.
    Can we find a leader who understands the core issue, and will lead? James Hansen

  5. Alexis said on November 30th, 2009 at 7:07pm #

    Bozh, you clearly have no concept of anarchism whatsoever. Please try to refrain from bandying about words which you do not understand.

    Anarchism is egalitarian, anti-capitalistic, and anti-authoritarian by nature. Regardless of the school of anarchism, it always comes back to equity.

    Read The Conquest of Bread by Kropotkin; anarchism would ensure food for all, NOT force people through a life of privation, least of all children. Or better yet, sift through this site:
    http://infoshop.org/faq/

    Great article, though. I disagree that working within the existing system for reform is going to have significant impact (or that it’s even necessarily a step in the right direction); all the same, it was a well-written report.

  6. lichen said on November 30th, 2009 at 7:44pm #

    I’m sure it does everyone so much good to pretend that right wing anarchism, based on corporations ruling everything, extreme inequality, and environmental destruction, does not exist. It clearly does, and those people consider themselves ‘anarchists’ so let’s not pretend that bozh’s word isn’t accurate in some tenses.

  7. Don Hawkins said on December 1st, 2009 at 2:50am #

    I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
    From up and down, and still somehow
    It’s cloud illusions i recall.
    I really don’t know clouds at all.

  8. b99 said on December 1st, 2009 at 7:06am #

    1) Let’s not confuse anarchism with chaos.

    2) If corporations rule it might be considered an oligarchy or plutocracy – but these are pretty much 180 degrees away from anarchy.

    3) As one poster suggested on another thread, mom should just take the bus down to the health food store, and come home with all manner of local grown produce. Better yet, all starving kids should move to downtown Seattle.

  9. bozh said on December 1st, 2009 at 9:08am #

    Alexis,
    I deliberately used the word “anarchic” to limn what plutos do. I know that label may mislead people and lead them to certain conclusions.
    However, anarchy appears utopian just as much as living in US under equal protection by laws written by the ruling class.
    To the degree that laws are written by them, to that degree one is living under an anarchic rule: one just makes laws one wants or thinks one needs.

    I also realized that by describing US as an anarchy, people wld wake up to what’s going on in US. My apology to all i may have misled! tnx

  10. bozh said on December 1st, 2009 at 9:14am #

    Lichen,
    I just spotted ur post; been delighted that u caught on. Oh, that darn palin and her palinism! So, i just did a palin!tnx

  11. bozh said on December 1st, 2009 at 9:31am #

    DB,
    Well, if it is true that about 0001-001% of Usans make al the important laws, then calling that kind of rule anarchic isn’t anything to cause upset to anyone.
    Anarchy means, i think, life w.o. a rule, governance, constitution, army, secert police, gov’ts/mamnagement teams, police.
    I do not think i want to try that. Not now nor in centuries to come. Perhaps some day.

    If u do not understand some of my ideas, it has its causes. Now even, a simplicity such this one, might not be understood by everyone. Sometime the cause may be a typo, inaccurate syntax, a word left out; at other times it might be reading to quickly, answering to quickly, previous thoughts or attitudes by the reader, relying on memory, or conditioning to answer in a blitz of time, like on TV. tnx for ur comment

  12. bozh said on December 1st, 2009 at 9:52am #

    How inanarchical anarchists can be, deadbeat and alexis exemplify it: they blame person for saying s’mthing. Thus, stifle free speech. So much for their egalitarianism while promoting meritocracy and apsolute correctness.

    To inded be an egalitarian one cannot blame people for being wrong in their eyes. We are all fallible. Nobody can be right all the time. We all live in a meritocratic and inegalitarian society.
    Those with less schooling, with more false knowledge taught to him/her wld naturally be more often wrong.
    And these anarchists blame the victims of the plutocratic education and rule.
    So, when will u practise what u preach? Above all let the free speech flow freely.
    Please stop attacking not only people but also their ideas; else u’d speak-behave just like plutocrats. tnx

  13. Deadbeat said on December 1st, 2009 at 2:02pm #

    bozh writes …

    How inanarchical anarchists can be, deadbeat and alexis exemplify it: they blame person for saying s’mthing. Thus, stifle free speech. So much for their egalitarianism while promoting meritocracy and apsolute correctness.

    Bozh you were WRONG and your ego doesn’t permit you to admit that so not you rather throw out smears — a rather reactionary tactic — rather than LEARN from your mistake.

    Also lichen’s use of the phrase “right wing” anarchism is an oxymoran. The right seeks to impose more authority not less.

    Rather than ridicule Alexis and me it would behoove you to LEARN from the link that Alexis kindly supplied to you. Click on the link in his reponse and educate yourself.

    Thx
    DB

  14. bozh said on December 1st, 2009 at 2:43pm #

    DB,
    U were first to attack me. And solely because u thought i was wrong or because u deny the basic human right to err.
    I have stated the word “anarchic” was deliberately used for a purpose.
    When one attacks what a person says is bad enough- still attacking a person is even worse.
    I cld be accused only of having u and alexis accused of stifling free speech. How else to wake u up to this fact? When i stifle free speech by accusing people or calling name them or their writings, i hope s’mbody points it out to me. Such a personcld freely say, Hey, bozh, u’r condemning free speech.

    Anarchists like chomsky are channeling efforts into mission impossible intead of mission possible: form or join a party. This may be the best way to empower lower classes.
    And i do not know whether guidance-elucidation is also excluded from their thinking.
    Anarchists also do not take genetics into account. Let’s face it: if indeed one can sustain a brain injury at birth or be born a killer, wife beater, crook, rapist, ‘stupido’, etc., such a person shld be s’mhow be cared for.

    So some rudimentary system of rule-guidance must exist to be able to look after ‘losers’ as well.
    Apsolute selfguidance {which anarchists may or may not insist on} just isn’t possible to achieve.
    Obviously, a nonrule means a rule just like no opinion may be the best or worst opinion. No rule may be best or worst rule ever! tnx

  15. Alexis said on December 1st, 2009 at 3:48pm #

    @ DB: I’m happy you liked the link; it’s really the only site I’ve found that’s quite as extensive, on topic, and easy to navigate. For the record, I’m female, but the mistake was understandable; the name can go both ways.

    @ Bozh: We are not stifling free speech. We are directing your attention to your misunderstanding of the concept of anarchy. Once you fully understand what you are bashing, then by all means, continue to bash it. But until that time, you have no place slandering it and perpetuating an all-too-common misconception in doing so.

    You wrote:

    “Alexis,
    I deliberately used the word “anarchic” to limn what plutos do. I know that label may mislead people and lead them to certain conclusions.
    However, anarchy appears utopian just as much as living in US under equal protection by laws written by the ruling class.
    To the degree that laws are written by them, to that degree one is living under an anarchic rule: one just makes laws one wants or thinks one needs.
    I also realized that by describing US as an anarchy, people wld wake up to what’s going on in US. My apology to all i may have misled! tnx”

    There are so many errors in this convoluted post I don’t even know where to begin… If by “plutos” I’m to assume you mean plutotracies, we’ll start there. Plutocracies cannot be anarchic in any way for a number of reasons. First off, a plutocracy would imply capitalism, and all branches of anarchism oppose capitalism. Secondly, a plutocracy would require a ruling class, which cannot exist within an anarchic system. Living under laws imposed by a ruling class does NOT imply any sort of utopia whatsoever, and it is entirely beyond me how you could have deduced that this societal structure would be even desirable. If laws are imposed from above, then hierarchy exists which alone eliminates any possibility of “anarchical rule” (an oxymoron in itself, if I may point that out). I could go on about this at length, but I’ll instead simply end in pointing out that the U.S. is no where NEAR anarchical. Having arbitrary laws imposed by above does not imply anarchism, it cancels out the very possiblity of anarchism. You’re confusing societal rules and customs agreed upon by all with societal law imposed by the ruling class on whim. In a truly anarchistic society, no single person can have any more power than any other single person, which is the opposite of what we’re seeing in the U.S. today. Worldwide, at that.

  16. Alexis said on December 1st, 2009 at 4:13pm #

    @ Bozh: The first part of your last post really defeats itself, so I’ll only touch on the second half. You wrote:

    “Anarchists like chomsky are channeling efforts into mission impossible intead of mission possible: form or join a party. This may be the best way to empower lower classes.
    And i do not know whether guidance-elucidation is also excluded from their thinking.
    Anarchists also do not take genetics into account. Let’s face it: if indeed one can sustain a brain injury at birth or be born a killer, wife beater, crook, rapist, ’stupido’, etc., such a person shld be s’mhow be cared for.
    So some rudimentary system of rule-guidance must exist to be able to look after ‘losers’ as well.
    Apsolute selfguidance {which anarchists may or may not insist on} just isn’t possible to achieve.
    Obviously, a nonrule means a rule just like no opinion may be the best or worst opinion. No rule may be best or worst rule ever! tnx”

    All this does is illustrate for all your complete and utter lack of understanding of what anarchism really is. I’m not even going to address why joining a party isn’t going to make a significant difference, that should be plain enough for all to see. Your generalizations regarding anarchism and anarchists are confouding. We DO take genetics into account, and proper arrangements would be made. You appear to confuse anarchism with a sort of “everyone for themselves” sort of atmosphere, which is simply not the case. In fact, that would be closer to today’s framework. Anarchism (individualist anarchism aside, which I don’t consider consistent anarchism in the first place) is about participatory communities, self-governance, and coming together to agree upon societal rules and customs. There is no delegation of power involved, but delegation of tasks. Anarchism would involve mass cooperation and communication. Again, you don’t seem to have even the slightest clue as to what anarchism really stands for.

  17. lichen said on December 1st, 2009 at 4:31pm #

    Anarchy has several different meanings; and yes, there is a right wing anarchism, which involves acheiving an anarchy via massive deregulation, destruction of government, social services, zoning laws, environmental laws, and letting corporations and the mafia rule everything; the rich see this as their own personal “freedom.”

    Much better to just say what it is that you support and don’t; and include everything, as opposed to overlooking mass things. Actually, all of those old, academic ideologies, transplanted from the 19th century and with room to hide all manner of right wing social views behind, are essentially that.

  18. bozh said on December 1st, 2009 at 4:58pm #

    alexis,
    i did expect u’d call name my writing. U say my post is “convoluted”. But is it convoluted to u only? And, pray, what does convoluted mean? I don’t know if u know that one cannot answer or elucidate a generalization.
    Answer right-wrong and true-false do not apply to any utterance of whatever kind save to descriptive ones.
    Calling names people or their writings does not nor can it ever elucidate any situation nor end in win-win result.
    Being meritocratic is aslo wrong; i.e., one says this post is syntacticly, grammaticly correct; well written and spelled; facts correctly adduced so we will accept for publication.
    This other post, i can’t understand; it is this or that; so, i am gonna get mad at him so that next time s/he’ ll right sense.

    In my previous post i have stated that no rule is a rule. To u, “anarchy” means no rule? Is that your position? First of all we do not have anywhere an anarchic state of affairs. So to use a nonexistent entity to prove that somebody is wrong ab. her/his opinions ab. the snark, cannot be correct.

    U’re right that we do have a plutocratic rule in US and elsewhere. Nevertheless, i dared call it anarchic because i thought it may wake up some people of what is happening in US.
    There may be many people who wld understand my use of the word “anarchic” as being authoritarian. People do say, God, it is anarchy there.
    So, i have used the word in its folk meaning, really.

    It helps a lot to accept the fact: one uses words; i.e. imbues it with own meanings. Which may be quite dissimilar to how others use it.
    Meanings are not in words; meanings are in people. And each person has an inalienable right to use any word as she sees fit.

    EG, i wld say to my wife that she`s a bitch, a whore, etc. So what happens? Well, she knows me and the hell with words. Proof that “bitch“ ^mine`^ is not bitch ^hers^ .
    Meanings are not in words solely! tnx

  19. Deadbeat said on December 1st, 2009 at 6:34pm #

    lichen writes …

    Anarchy has several different meanings; and yes, there is a right wing anarchism, which involves acheiving an anarchy via massive deregulation, destruction of government, social services, zoning laws, environmental laws, and letting corporations and the mafia rule everything; the rich see this as their own personal “freedom.”

    Such poor reasoning being displayed on a website for dissidents IMO is a direct result of the Left’s abandonment of any real anti-capitalist dialogue such as Marxism and replaced with false notions of activism whose forms are mostly diversionary pretentions.

    To say that “deregulation” is “right wing anarchism” shows a complete lack of understanding and ignorance of the Capitalist system. Liberals who favoured regulations did so in order to preserve Capitalism by managing crisis which is inherent to the system.

    Deregulation in fact didn’t “destroy” government. Capitalists used (and now own) the government to impose greater AUTHORITY by eliminating the regulations they agreed to in order to keep the system stabilized because the rate of profit was falling in the 1970′s. Thus deregulation gave Capitalist MORE power and authority and is a move AWAY from freedom, justice and democracy.

    The intransigency displayed by lichen, bozh and especially Max Shields reflect vividly the egoism that was sold to all classes of society to embrace neo-liberal Capitalism. Such egoism is anti-intellectual and in the end misleads people who are seeking answers to some very serious conditions.

  20. lichen said on December 1st, 2009 at 8:30pm #

    Lol, deadbeat; now you talk of ‘egoism,’ I guess Freud is someone you follow as well, and think us on the independent left somehow ‘abandoned’ Freud to our peril. But yes, there is such a thing as right wing anarchism, which is what I described–the teabag libertarian losers, who also call themselves anarchists, and which you have shown yourself to be sympathetic to very often on this site. And yes, deregulation has been a terrible thing–and it doesn’t only apply to financial instruments. Focusing on capitalism is abstract enough to be meaningless–and since it isn’t going to happen, insisting that bringing down capitalism is the project easily pre-empts doing anything, ever, which leads to people like you, who hate activism but search for ideological purity.

  21. Annie Ladysmith said on December 1st, 2009 at 8:54pm #

    OF COARSE THEY ARE GOING TO TRY STARVING US SO WE CAN’T REVOLT this is a default policy all you pinko-commies know well, so don’t pretend otherwise. Starving people are easier to kill ask the Russians (especially the Ukrainians), Cambodians, North Koreans, on and on.

    PLANT RUDABAGAS, no joke, seriously indestructable tubbers, having been tried and true for starving Europeans during WWII. The WAR is on, why is it that everyone wants to pretend it isn’t? They want you all DEAD, they want the world for themselves, they do not have one humanitarian bone in their carcasses, DO NOT TAKE THEIR MARK.

  22. Scott said on December 16th, 2009 at 12:33pm #

    …And to think, money up front for healthy lunches for children would drastically reduce national healthcare costs.