Hunger Is On The Rise In Missouri. How Can We Reverse The Trend?
By Camille Phillips on October 15, 2013
© St.Louis PublicRadio
According to a report released in September by the University of Missouri-Columbia, the percent of people who have inadequate access to food rose more in Missouri than in any other state in the nation from 2000 to 2010.
Approximately 1.3 million Missourians are currently classified as "food insecure." About 400,000 Missourians experience hunger.
The Interdisciplinary Study for Food Security, which released the report, based their information on data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Census. Due to the partial government shutdown, both the USDA website and the Census website are down, preventing verification of their data.
Unless an agreement is reached by Thursday, a much more direct impact on hunger could be felt. As an article in the Washington Post explains, if the debt limit is not raised before the U.S. Treasury runs out of borrowing authority, key benefits such as Social Security and Food Stamp (SNAP) payments could be delayed or cut.
The president of the faith-based Bread for the World Institute, World Food Prize Laureate David Beckmann, joined local food pantry leaders Gary Wells of Operation Food Search and Matt Dace of the St. Louis Area Foodbank in a discussion with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about ways to alleviate hunger in the region and around the world.
"Right now, the budget debate is just terrifying to me," said Beckmann. "We're very close to what could be a financial crisis...We want to try to keep them from cutting programs that are important to poor people, but the other thing is just to get them to come to a bipartisan decision because the best way to reduce hunger for anybody is to get a good job."
"Raising the unemployment rate is even worse than cutting SNAP [food stamps]," he added. "If you raise the unemployment rate, a lot of people are going to need food stamps."
The U.S. government classifies people as either "food insecure" or "food insecure with hunger" depending on how they answer eight survey questions. But what it boils down to, said Beckmann, is that too many people are hungry.
"In this country, the typical pattern of hunger is that families run out of food sometimes. Maybe towards the end of the month their wage check runs out, their food stamps run out," said Beckmann. "Those households also just never have enough, so they tend to eat cheap food that's not really good for you."
And eating cheap, unhealthy food can lead to obesity, which is why people who are hungry can also be obese, said Beckmann.
The key to decreasing hunger is not simply increasing access to food, said St. Louis Area Foodbank vice president Matt Dace. It's about increasing access to nutritious food and educating people about nutrition. Beckmann and Gary Wells, community partnership director for Operation Food Search, agreed.
"One of the things that keeps ringing true with all three of us is, we are all focused on nutrition," said Dace. "One of the most nutritious programs we operate is the food that we get via the federal programs. It's items that you or I are going to buy at the grocery store – canned soup, canned vegetables, canned fruits. Fresh, frozen chicken. Those types of items are not able to be replaced by the community via donations. So, if we're focused on ending hunger coupled with making sure that we are feeding people nutritious product, there is definitely a role the federal government needs to play in this."
Already, the need in the region exceeds what area food pantries and soup kitchens can provide, said Gary Wells of Operation Food Search.
"The number of people coming in are meeting the maximum capability of the food pantries. The food pantries here in the St. Louis area, the metro area, the bi-state area, and across the state of Missouri, are turning people away," said Wells. "Every month our agencies that we provide food for, serve about 150,000 people a month in food pantries and another several thousand in soup kitchens. They could serve more, but they simply run out of food."