Nearly Half of U.S. Children Will Eat on Food Stamps.

While walking the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston this week, Kerri and I stumbled across a memorial to Irish immigrants who struggled during the potato famine. Photo by Christopher.

The other day, I asked Kerri if she thought it was too late to have our publisher change something in our upcoming book. I was prompted to ask because of a recent report released by the USDA which stated that 49 million Americans (1 in 7 households) are currently in need of some type of food assistance; a number that in August hovered around 36 million. In the second part of our book we talk in depth about SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program), formerly known as food stamps, and as it stands now, when our book is released we will have drastically understated the scope of the problems people are facing.

Then yesterday, a shocking projection was revealed across the newswires: nearly half of all children in the United States will eat on food stamps during some part of their childhood.

The study was published earlier this month in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and was conducted by sociologists from Cornell University and Washington University in St. Louis. They based their projection on 30 years of national data, and said their results, “show U.S. kids face a substantial risk for experiencing poverty, which poses a serious threat to their health and well-being.”

The article by Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press goes on to do a fairly good job of embracing the nuances of food security issues, but what was most surprising (and predictable?) was the comment from Robert Rector at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Apparently, Rector sees no need to sound the alarm about this issue as he explains that many in this situation, “have comforts like televisions and air conditioning receive food stamps for short periods of time when a parent is laid off.”

I cannot eat my television when I’m hungry, or get enough nutrition from cold air, and I’m assuming that the people he’s talking about can’t do so either. (The callousness of this response prompted today’s accompanying photo)

Rector’s comments seem to stem from the same place that many libertarian economic philosophers do, one of “every man for himself” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric that does little to account for the contexts or the individual situations that people face. When your research is aimed from a certain philosophical gun, it’s pretty easy to hit the target you’re aiming for. The Heritage Foundation has such an arsenal, and uses it frequently on issues of social spending.

Meanwhile, local food pantries and charities keep plugging away while the need for services climbs, and resources diminish. While the work of these groups is essential, it is not enough, and on its own will never come close to getting at the roots of these problems. That being said, we would like to ask you once again to do what you can to help others, either through donating to those in extreme poverty abroad, or to those facing food insecurity in your community (or both).

While we were in Boston this past week, Kerri and I were humbled by the depth of our nation’s history, and by the efforts of those working to help others. While on the red line train we saw an ad for a Catholic charity, that asks people to throw a party where the entrance to the event is a bag of boxed and canned foods for donation. We thought it quite clever, and will most likely use this idea for our own efforts in San Diego. Thankful for your continued help of others…

– Christopher

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Nearly Half of U.S. Children Will Eat on Food Stamps.

  1. Diane

    Having a television or central air is not a luxury. Most people in the world, including those in impoverished countries, have access to a television. Central air in certain parts of the country can be the difference between life and death. Where I live in the Central Valley, we have literally hundreds of people die each year from lack of air conditioning during heat waves. Why should someone who has fallen on hardtimes be forced to live without neccessities to buy food?

    Does Robert Rector understand that unemployment quickly changes people’s economic status? Many families that were in the middle income bracket a year ago now are in poverty and on the verge of starvation. Such comments are out of touch with what most Americans are facing right now.

    There was periods in my childhood that we had to go to our church for food. As I have grown older, I have learned quite a few people have gone to charities, churches or the government for help. Personally, I think half may be too low of a projection.

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  4. Good post and picture. Looking forward to reading your book.

  5. Sharon

    One thing that can help is to plant a small garden or container garden. Food Stamps/SNAP can be used to get seeds for growing food. Most seed packets have enough for 5-10 small gardens, so if you get 10 people together and each buy a different packet of seeds, you can have a lot of diversity. Some places also sell bulk garden seed by the teaspoon or fraction of an ounce. Your area may have community gardens for growing space if you live in an apartment without outdoor space.

    Here are some resources for learning about growing a lot in a small space:

    SMALL KITCHEN GARDEN EXPERIMENTS
    *********************************************

    Some areas have been experimenting with gardening intensively in 100 square feet (~9 square meters).

    In 2008 Rosalind Creasy in the USA did an experiment to see how much she could grow in a summer garden of 100 square feet (~9 square meters).

    In her garden she planted:

    Basil
    Lettuce
    Peppers, Bell
    Tomatoes
    Zucchini

    All together she got 235 pounds/106 kg of organic vegetables from her plot.

    In her area this would be over US$700/470 Euros worth of vegetables.

    There’s a report with lots more info on the garden in the December 2009 issue of Mother Earth News of the 2008 garden.

    (If any of the links below split across lines, please cut and paste them back together to get to the site.)

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Square-Foot-Gardening-Food.aspx

    The magazine issue has many more photos.

    They also include some great tips on getting lots of food from a small garden plot.

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Square-Foot-Gardening-Food.aspx?page=4

    For the 2009 garden year she planted some cool weather vegetables earlier in the year and also diversified her summer garden. So this year she has:

    Beans, Pole
    Bok Choi
    Broccoli
    Chard
    Collards
    Kale
    Lettuce
    Mesclun
    Onions, Scallions
    Peas, Snap
    Peas, Sugar
    Peppers
    Radishes
    Squash, Zucchini
    Tomatoes

    Her 2009 yields were similar. A report and photos of the 2009 garden are located at http://www.rosalindcreasy.com/ros-trial-garden-2008-2009/

    In the UK several botanical gardens have planted 10 foot x 10 foot (~3meter by 3 meter) sample food gardens. Here is the link to 12/14 different sample gardens and matching shorter link in case the link splits. The first Harlow Carr plan link for fruit and vegetables has not been working, but the other 11 are ok.

    http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Grow-Your-Own/Events-Gardens/The-RHS-3x3m-plots

    And one at a garden show with tiered beds and a dining table where the 4×4 bed is in some of the sample plans.

    http://mygarden.rhs.org.uk/photos/alison_mundie/picture20631.aspx

    This tiered design could be used on steeper land and made out of rocks which are likely to be available in that type of terrain. If the soil is thin on the hillside, it can be increased by lasagna composting.

    I have not seen any yield data for the UK gardens.

    By managing the space intensively and building soil fertility, the 100 square foot/~9 square meter plots can produce 400 to 800 pounds/181-362kg of high nutrition vegetables per year. For planning and details on yield data see How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons, 2006.

    Generally best use can be made of a small size plot near the house or apartment by growing high nutrition foods that yield well but don’t travel well and which are expensive to buy. Food that travels well dry such as grain and beans can be grown in fields surrounding the city.

    If you are aware of any small plot experiments, plans, demonstration plots, or medicinal herb plots such as this under 600 square feet/56 square meters please send information about where more details can be found to gordonse@one.net .

    COMPLETE NUTRITION GARDENS
    *************************************

    How much land does it take to grow sustainably a complete diet for one person? John Jeavons, Ecology Action, and other colleagues have been doing research to answer this.

    Information on how to design a Complete Nutrition Garden can be found in the book One Circle: How to grow a complete diet in less than 1000 square feet by Duhon and Gebhard http://www.bountifulgardens.org/

    The sample gardens in the book are designed for the Pacific Northwest of the USA.

    Other sample garden booklets available are for Kenya and Mexico:

    Mexican booklet: http://www.bountifulgardens.org/prodinfo.asp?number=BEA%2D0015

    Kenya booklet: http://www.bountifulgardens.org/prodinfo.asp?number=BEA%2D0025

    Albie Miles grew a Complete Nutrition Garden in Santa Cruz, California, USA. This location has a nearly year round temperature of 50-75F/10-24C. This garden was still producing at the conclusion of the experiment, so the yield of fresh vegetables was higher than is included in the report. A detailed summary of the experiment can be read at http://www.cityfarmer.org/albie.html

    If you are aware of any other Complete Nutrition Garden designs or experiments please send information about where more details can be found to gordonse@one.net .

    EDIBLE LANDSCAPING AND PERMANENT AGRICULTURE
    ************************************************

    The Albie Miles experiment shows that during some parts of the growing season intensive gardening can take six or more hours a day. One way to help reduce this is through permanent plantings of food bearing trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. It helps if cities permit food gardening all around a house, have community gardens in every neighborhood, include garden space with each apartment, and use edible landscaping in parks and at businesses. A great deal can also be grown in containers on patios or balconies and roof tops that are designed to support the weight. Where needed due to climate, houses and apartments could also be built with deep windowsill greenhouse windows or attached greenhouse space.

    See edible landscaping and permaculture books and periodicals at

    http://www.permaculture-magazine.co.uk/

    http://www.green-shopping.co.uk/books/book_pages/permaculture.html

    http://www.permacultureactivist.net/

    http://www.permacultureactivist.net/booksvid/BooksnVid.htm

    http://www.rosalindcreasy.com/published-books/ (new one out April 2010)

    MULTI-STORY GARDEN BUILDINGS
    Toronto, Canada and Nevada, USA and other cities have multi-story garden buildings planned or proposed. Each floor could have a separately controlled climate.

    http://verticalfarm.com/designs.html

    FOUR SEASON HARVEST TECHNIQUES

    Cold hardy vegetables can also be grown to full size in the fall and harvested all winter using four season harvest techniques. http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/

    Sharon

  6. Cassandra

    It’s all too true. The same ‘libertarians’ who provide such edifying rhetoric to the poor on the moral benefits of self reliance and fiscal rectitude are the first in line with their hands out at the public trough when corporate welfare is being dispensed via the Pentagon or the Federal Reserve.

    When ‘markets’ deliver to the expected constituency all is well, but it’s public bailouts should de-regulation fail. It’s a rigged system, and the biggest beneficiaries are the biggest parasites.

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