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Madeleine M. Kunin Headshot

National Security Depends on the Nation's Food Security

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One in five children in America lives in a family who often does not know where the next meal is coming from. Nearly one million seniors living alone do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. They make painful choices -- whether to spend their meager incomes on medicine or dinner. We once called it hunger. Today, it's called food insecurity.

But whatever we call it, it's a scourge on the American landscape. The land of opportunity has the highest child poverty rate of any developed country in the world. How can this be, in the richest country on earth?

Statistics do not convey emotion. They shock us for a minute or two, and then we click again. We do not sit down at the dinner tables with the families who skip a meal, or fight hunger pangs by consuming cheap unhealthy food. Contradictory as it seems, malnutrition is a key contributor to obesity.

And, we do not see, unless we go there ourselves, the elderly women and men who line up at the food bank several times a week.

The focus of Congress is on keeping the nation secure -- and it doesn't see that food security is an essential part of that responsibility.

Instead of putting more food on the tables of America, they are busy finding ways to take it away.

Their strategy is simple: cut the food stamp program, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Ever since the first food stamp program began in 1939, Republicans have sought to reduce or eliminate it and Democrats have fought to expand it. It was President Lyndon Johnson who gave it a strong push during the War on Poverty.

Like most programs for children and the poor, SNAP does not have a powerful constituency, unlike prosperous farmers who continue to receive big helpings of subsidies.

And, we continue to blame the poor for their own condition. They are lazy. We do not want to know that the poorest of the poor are toddlers under three years of age.

The program is expensive, 74 billion dollars in 2012. But we don't calculate the cost of malnutrition. One study finds that: "Nutrition has been called the single greatest environmental influence on babies in the womb and during infancy, and it remains essential throughout the first years of life."

Young children who aren't properly nourished are 31 percent more likely to spend time in the hospital and 76 percent more likely to have problems with cognitive, language and behavioral development.

Can we really afford to cut food stamps when we know we are cutting off the next generation from leading, healthy productive lives? The answer is clearly no, but that answer has to be shouted loud and clear to be heard.

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