Friday, February 26, 2010

Managing vs. Solving Food Related Issues

It is safe to say that the United States does a good job at masking issues through ‘quick-fixes’ that often end up extending into the long term and replacing further action or development. We see this in the way that food charities and emergency food programs mask the deeply rooted issues of hunger and the reasons for it. Because we have such a complex infrastructure, it becomes difficult to make changes in that infrastructure in fear of impacting a network of systems that are all interrelated.

The article "Temporary Hunger Relief Measures are Unsustainable," includes a report from Food Bank for New York City that shows a decrease in the number of residents throughout the five burroughs of the city experiencing difficulties affording food from 3.9 million in 2008 to 3.3 million in 2009. This decrease is the result of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) from the stimulus package which provided support for low and middle-income families. The problem is that the ARRA, along with other funds, were put in place as temporary responses to the recession. These funds helped to put a temporary hold on the six year trend of increasing families experiencing difficulties affording food. However, when the funds are cut in half this year the people in need are back at square one while food pantries will have to work harder to keep up. This article makes a clear statement in the necessity to " implement permanent, long-term solutions to food poverty, including establishing affordable housing, health care and a living wage." Having a long-term reliance on these emergency food programs cannot be sustained indefinately and does not provide a solution to the reasons people are hungry. This brings me to the conclusion that temporary fixes may be necessary at times, but broader changes and developments need to happen in working to solve the issue of hunger.

In the beginnings of emergency food programs, breadlines and things of that nature marked a time of great despair or depression. We see now that they have spread to become permanant necessities for people's survival. In Sweet Charity, Janet Poppendieck exposes the negative sides of food emergency programs, soup kitchens and food pantries. The rapid increase in emergency foods programs after the recession of the 1980’s has extended to today, where hunger problems are managed but not solved. Poppendieck exposes how we've created a culture of charity that normalizes poverty. This makes real action against poverty, such as better education and community involvement, reside to the back-burner. Also discussed is the way soup kitchens further separate and segregate lower classes, as it is demoralizing for people to depend on hand-outs. Food stamps can be seen as a better way to bridge social gaps by allowing people with them to shop in the same place as others and to have consumer choice of foods. As discussed, food stamps are a good way to provide extra help to the "working poor" and sometimes even keep them off welfare but also can start to hide the problem of unmet needs in this country as well.

Another example of the reluctance to solve problems is seen in the way the agribusiness attempts to ‘manage’ instead of solve contaminated food issues. “Food Safety Consequences and Factory Farms,” from Food Inc. talks of the difficulties in dealing with the enormous amounts of waste produced by the thousands of animals on factory farms. This waste entering into the meat we eat and nearby streams and groundwater causes the easy spread of E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, listeria etc. Theses factory farms have too many animals and are just too big to function properly. Sadly, they have replaced thousands of local farms working on smaller, more sustainable and healthy scales. Instead of taking measures to preventing this spread of contamination in the agribusiness, the problem is dealt with by injecting animals with antibiotics to fight off infection while people continue to get sick from the meat. A transition back to smaller, manageable farms would make sense, or at least money invested in making sure the meat is not contaminated.

Although these issues become quite complex, raising awareness is the best way to spark change in the United States' long history of masking problems with the mentality of "fixing it later". This mentality extends outside of food related issues into challages involving the environment, healthcare, debt, safety etc. Although sometimes periods of intense struggle require immediate (temporary) outreach, none of these programs should stand alone. In the face of all these issues in this time of change, it would be most progressive to consider the long-term in any new development. Although it is important to continue to feed the hungry, it's possible to do so in conjunction with other advancements that get at the deeply rooted sources of these issues involving inequalities, education systems, and the outsourcing of jobs.


  1. Great post! It's very interesting to think about this in relation to Monika's earlier post:

    Are reductionism and the preference for "quick-fixes" both part of the same mentality? I wonder what others think.

  2. I would say so and I think this is a result of the corporate control of what people are exposed to (especially in the media). I do not think that people just began thinking in these inefficient ways without some intentional drivers from those in power. What worries me the most is that this control is masked, its control through distracting mass amounts of people.