Merry Food Insecurity Season

Nov. 19, 2020

As the holidays approach, all is not well.

APPETITE, n. An instinct thoughtfully implanted by Providence as a solution to the labor question.
—Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary”

It looks like there’s going to be a lot more solutions than questions this holiday season. Unemployment claims in the most recent week were up for the first time in a month, and 12 million Americans expect to lose their unemployment benefits right after Christmas.

According to a survey done for the Dannon yogurt brand Two Good, four in 10 Americans are suffering food insecurity during the pandemic. Some other findings include:

  • 60% said the federal stimulus programs' expiration has made it more difficult to provide food for their family.
  • 37% have skipped meals so their children could eat.
  • 85% of those who struggle with food insecurity avoided the topic so as not to worry family and friends.

The Two Good survey goes on to praise food banks, claiming, among other things, that “six in ten said they had access to healthier food options than before experiencing food insecurity.”

That’s great, I guess, except that it shouldn’t take coming face-to-face with starvation – and let’s face it, that’s what “food insecurity” means – to get anyone to start eating healthier. More to the point, people shouldn’t require food banks to keep eating at all.

I love food banks and give as generously as I can to my local one. But for all the great work they do, they cannot, and were never intended to, take the place of grocery stores. As I’ve said and said again, the most efficient, effective way to get food to poor people is to give them the money to buy it like everyone else. This benefits, not only them, but the food processing and retailing sectors as well.

That same principle – charity is nice but money is nicer – applies to the private sector as well as government. It’s good that, say, some prominent food retailers are giving away Thanksgiving dinners. It would be even better if those retailers would pay wages high enough to keep their employees off food stamps.