With all the conversations that are going on about food, there is very little talk about the many people who are suffering from food insecurity in the United States.
During the Great Depression, it was easy to see the lines of people waiting for meals at soup kitchens. Visit the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., and this era is prominently on display. However, the recent struggles of the 2008 recession were not as clearly visible as many of the people who were food insecure received food aid.
If we look closely at the Farm Bill spending, we see that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (the former Food Stamps program) spending was originally estimated to be $188.9 billion for 2008-2012, but actually ended up closer to $314.3 billion. The additional spending was attributed to the provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, higher food costs, and increasing program participation rates, according to the Congressional Research Service.
We all can recall how challenging the 2008 economic situation was, and how long is has taken many people to recover. With so many people eligible for assistance, it's understandable why legislators feel they have an obligation to their constituents to protect this part of the Farm Bill.
One of the more challenging parts of the food conversation that is happening in our country is the extremes of two sides. On one side there's a very large portion of our population who are food insecure. Literally, there are people who make the decision between buying food and paying rent or buying gas to be able to drive to work. On the other side, there's a conversation about how many foods are not OK to eat. Some would like to call these folks the food elite, but they may describe themselves as just trying to fuel their bodies and their children with the best possible nutrition.
So what happens next with these seemingly contrary realities? Does there become some sort of "food classification" system, with those who can afford the "best" food on the top and those who are only eligible for assistance on the bottom?
If a food item costs less, does it automatically mean that it's not as good and nutritious for you? Do we need education programs of how to shop and prepare raw ingredients? Along with the preparation skills, should we educate on what makes up a well-rounded meal?
Bottom line, there is a strong need for affordable food. The U.S. has had a food system which allows all the luxury of being able to obtain food. It is necessary to have an affordable, safe, and abundant food supply if the U.S. wants to continue feeding our population, but that message no longer seems to resonate with many consumers.