Scaricity in a land of Plenty
By Jamie Miles • Infographics by Katie Walker
In a country where perfectly good food is tossed from refrigerators to make room for more, how can so many families struggle each day just to put something on the dinner table?
Perched in the living room of her modest home on a quiet street in Siloam, Jeannie Ransome confesses, “I trust in the Lord and go day by day.” The 49-year-old wife and mother of three lives out her vows “for better, for worse” every hour of every day. Freddie, her childhood playmate and husband of 23 years, was born with a degenerative eye disease. His failing eyesight put him at risk for serious injury, and he was forced to leave his job in 1999. His disability check doesn’t begin to cover the family’s monthly expenses.
To make ends meet, Jeannie worked two jobs before a back injury left her unable. Now she stays busy watching over her energetic three-year-old granddaughter, Molly, so that her oldest daughter can work. Jeannie earns a little extra money driving a local woman to Athens for appointments, but it goes toward household expenses or gas for her youngest daughter, Chanese, a fun-loving sophomore at Greene County High School.
In addition to food stamps, Jeannie currently relies on donations from two area food pantries to feed her family. The donated rations they receive need to last for an entire month. When her cupboard begins to run dry, Jeannie gets creative in the kitchen. On the days when the food simply runs out, there is no option than to skip a meal or two. “Without a steady job, I just can’t go to the store to buy food,” she says matter-of-factly.
Ransome’s story is familiar in Greene County, where 21 percent of the population lives at or below the poverty line. That same percentage (over 3,000 Greene County residents) is deemed “food insecure” by the USDA. Food insecurity means the lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life. The statistics don’t improve much in surrounding counties. Single mothers are especially vulnerable to food insecurity, as are black and Hispanic households. The USDA found that one in six Americans live in food insecure households; this ratio includes 17 million children.
Jeannie’s youngest daughter is among the 75 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced meals in the Greene County public school system. With younger students, it’s often easy to spot a child too hungry to concentrate on schoolwork. But, many older children living in food insecure environments learn how to adjust. Greene County High School Principal DeeDee Mercier explains, “They become skilled at finding food on their own by high school; whether it’s by going to a friend’s house to eat or some other way.”
At the same time, Americans throw away 96 billion pounds of food annually—approximately 3,000 pounds per second. Unbelievably, this means 25 percent of all prepared food in schools, restaurants, and homes winds up in landfills. In a country where perfectly good food is tossed from refrigerators to make room for more, how can so many families struggle each day just to put something on the dinner table?
Evaluating Food Security
The USDA Economic Research Service measures food security using a continuum ranging from high food security to very low food security. There are four ranges on the continuum, and households are placed according to severity—how often the families reduced their meal size or skipped meals entirely, and whether or not the families could afford food.
Households had no problems, or anxiety about, consistently accessing adequate food.
Households had problems at times, or anxiety about, accessing adequate food, but the quality, variety, and quantity of their food intake were not substantially reduced.
Households reduced the quality, variety, and desirability of their diets, but the quantity of food intake and normal eating patterns were not substantially disrupted.
At times during the year, eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money and other resources for food.
Printed in the July 21, 2011 edition