Big Food's Hunger Myth

Last Updated Nov 18, 2009 2:16 PM EST

According to a new report by the US Department of Agriculture, more than one in seven American families suffered from "food insecurity" sometime in 2008 and we should all be concerned that that figure is rising. Many media outlets have eaten this report up at face value, blasting similar headlines about how more Americans are "going hungry."
This hunger awareness drive is not new, though. Feeding America, a nonprofit funded in large part by the food industry, and its partner, the Ad Council, have been running an Ogilvy-powered ad campaign for a year now which claims one in eight Americans "live with hunger." Feeding America even connected with Matt Damon to pitch its hunger talking points on the season finale of HBO's Entourage.
Obviously, everyone is against hunger. And whenever someone in a country as rich as America can't afford food, it's a disgrace. We clearly have the resources to keep everyone well-fed.

So here's my problem: these hunger numbers just don't seem to add up when you realize how many people in America are over-fed.
Just look at Feeding America's own website. Do their "faces of hunger" from across America look like they're starving to you?
We don't have a serious hunger problem in the land of the absurdly cheap one dollar double cheeseburger. We have an obesity epidemic.

Let's check the government's own data. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had an obesity rate that was less than 20 percent. According to the latest CDC stats, 32.7 percent of American adults are now overweight, 34.3 percent are obese and 5.9 percent are are extremely obese. I'm supposed to believe that roughly 14 percent of American families are "food insecure" when only 27 percent of American adults are not overweight or obese?

Many will counter that it must be poor people and the nation's children who are "going hungry." But again, according to the government's own data, around 17 percent of children are now obese. And paradoxically, many studies have confirmed a correlation between poverty and obesity. While the USDA claims that one in seven American families are "food insecure," the CDC's data shows that one of seven low-income, preschool-aged children is obese.
So why is Big Food trying to convince us that there is a huge hunger problem? My theory is that Feeding America and its backers, which include Kraft, the Campbell Soup Company, Wal-Mart and ConAgra Foods, want to hype hunger so that no new regulations try to tackle obesity. What politician would dare propose a new tax on fatty or empty calorie foods when the public thinks one in seven families can't put enough food on the table? And who is now going to try and stop the redistribution of tens of billions of our tax dollars to King Corn and his Frankenfood court each year?

One thing is certain. President Obama's controversial pick to lead the USDA, Iowa's former Governor Tom Vilsack, and his friends at Monsanto, won't be going hungry any time soon.

  • Stefan Deeran

    Stefan Deeran helps environmental nonprofits and green businesses develop and execute their new media campaigns. He also publishes The Exception magazine, a nonpartisan news platform serving his home state of Maine. You can follow him on Twitter @RStefanDeeran or via Facebook.