Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Food insecurity - reality or hype?

You've probably heard the commercials numerous times - one in five kids in the country are going hungry - usually recited in a sad little girl's voice. Now it's one in four.

I heard a blurb on the radio this morning talking about food insecurity. I’m not sure if it was a news item or an advertisement, but the premise of the message was completely wrong.

First it said that one out of four children in Ohio live in a home that is “food insecure” – that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Having looked at various food insecurity questionnaires and polls, I could find no single common definition of food insecurity. In some of the forms, the one in four or one in five results come from a question that asks ‘can you afford the food you want to buy?’

Who wouldn’t answer that question no? I’d love to eat lobster and freshly-caught salmon and oysters on a regular basis – but I can’t afford to. So if that is the primary question that results in being ‘food insecure,’ then my household would qualify.

Other questions are more realistic in terms of assessing the status of families in terms of their ability to feed themselves. And I’m certain there are families that are having a hard time, but do we really think that 25% of kids in the state are actually going hungry on a regular basis?

The blurb continued saying that 800,000 children “depend” upon the free lunch program in schools.

There is no way that can be accurate – because they cannot know for sure.

I’m certain the number is correct in terms of participation in the free lunch program and how many children are both eligible and participating.

But participation doesn’t mean that the children are dependent. There are families who could provide lunches for their kids, but choose to participate in the program because they can. Again, this is certainly not all of the kids, but probably a good amount of them.

So without actually evaluating each family to know their status and ability to feed their children, it’s disingenuous to assume that participation means dependency.

It then said that only 1 in 10 of those kids participate in summer lunch programs designed to continue the feeding of children who get free school lunches.

It implied that all those children must be going hungry during the summer since they’re not enrolled in a summer lunch feeding program.

But there’s another conclusion that is just as valid as an assumption: that the kids not participating in the summer lunch program are being fed by their family.

And if kids are being fed by their families during the summer, maybe they don’t *need* to be fed by the government during the school year.

I have no idea if either conclusion is accurate, but the possibility exists that either is true – though it is more likely that the truth is somewhere in between.

My problem with the blurb is the assumption that participation in free school lunch program equals dependency and the conclusion that lack of participation in summer lunch program equals going hungry.

But how many people will actually think through the alternate possibility instead of reacting emotionally to the blurb and the appeal to either enroll in the summer feeding program or help support it?

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