Toward Food Justice: The Wealthy Feast, the Poor Go Hungry. Surprise

Article excerpt

I biked past banners flapping in the breeze outside the Department of Health and Human Services: "Eat more fruits and vegetables!" they said. "Take the stairs instead of the elevator!" The next day I read about it in The Washington Post. Not only had HHS launched a Slim Down America campaign, but Secretary Tommy Thompson himself was on a diet--fruit for breakfast, salad for lunch, no more beers at The Dubliner after work. "It's difficult at the beginning," Thompson told the Post, "but every single one of us has got to take care of ourselves. We can't expect somebody else to do it for us."

From the low-carb craze to the organic food movement, it seems that the whole world is watching what it eats. My own Mennonite Church USA, so fond of cream sauces and jello salads, nevertheless rallied behind a recent health care statement that included among its objectives: "Our potlucks will no longer look like an invitation to a heart attack."

With 64 percent of Americans overweight, and obesity-related health care costs approaching $117 billion animally, calls to shape up and eat right might be warranted if they didn't obscure the fact that not everyone has access to the produce aisle. A 2000 USDA analysis found that low-income women are half as likely as wealthy women to eat salad or fruit on any given day. A 2002 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that they're also 50 percent more likely to be obese.

The temptation here is to cite anecdotes about welfare morns buying Twinkies with food stamps or about kids eating Fritos on the way to school, as evidence that the poor are overfed, not hungry. The fact is that requests for emergency food assistance increased by 17 percent last year, according to a survey a bargain? of 25 cities. And from 1999 to 2002, says the USDA, the number of food-insecure households, urban and rural, rose by 15 percent to 12 million.

The hunger and obesity paradox exists in part because, calorie for calorie, cookies are cheaper than carrots by a lot. If you were hungry, would you spend your last food dollar on energy-packed pasta or nutrient-rich greens? …