Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis, lambasted by Keith Olbermann last night (June 22, 2009) as a "Worst person in the World" for opposing summer meals for low-income kids based on her belief that "hunger can be a positive motivator," is, ironically, one of Missouri's leading pro-life activists.
While the organization I manage, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, has no official position on reproductive choice, I can't help but note how absurd it is for a state official who claims to care so much about the life of children in wombs to oppose a program that, by improving the nutrition of children who are born, reduces the likelihood that they will die early from diet-related causes.
In a recent column, Davis opined: "Some people say we should be satisfied in life with half-a-loaf. But when the issue itself is protecting innocent life, it is ludicrous to ask if we would mind compromising our basic core values." Yet when it comes to another basic value -- that of ensuring that those children, once born, deserve the nutrition necessary for a healthy life -- she seems to be for far more than compromising, she seems to be for eradicating that value entirely.
Davis proudly touts her religious convictions, but ignores that fighting hunger is a central tenet of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and virtually every other religious faith.
She denies that she has ever seen hunger in her district but, in 2008, the St. Louis Food Area Food Bank had to distribute an amazing 689,929 pounds of food to food pantries and soup kitchens, most of which were surely faith-based, in her home county of St. Charles.
Also in that county, according to federal statistics, one in 12 people, and one in ten children live in homes that can't afford enough food. (Missouri Hunger Atlas.)
If she hasn't seen hunger, it is only because she has her eyes closed. (And keep in mind that St. Charles County, a nice suburb of St. Louis, has far less poverty and hunger than many parts of Missouri.)
Rep. Davis cited the success of charities in the response to Hurricane Katrina, but seems wholly ignorant that the vast majority of food relief provided after the hurricane was government food, either in the form of USDA commodities or through the Disaster Food Stamp Program.
She claims that the existence of the Summer Meals Program funded by government is somehow an implicit criticism of the job that parents do raising their children. That's nonsense. The program is simply an acknowledgement that many families simply don't earn enough to buy their children enough meals during summer, when their children no longer get free meals at school. If anything, the need for the program should be seen as a criticism of elected officials such as Rep. Davis who stand idly by as government and economic policies make American children increasingly hungry.
Rep. Davis claims that a nation that has so much obesity can't have hunger, but as I prove conclusively in my book All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?, obesity and hunger are flip sides of the same malnutrition coin.
Unfortunately, Rep. Davis's extreme claims are only the tip of the iceberg of a whole Right-wing cottage industry of hunger and poverty denial. Right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are hard at work every day generating propaganda to dismiss or deny hunger and poverty. No matter how many times they are proven demonstrably wrong, they never seem to lose credibility -- at least in the world of Right-wing political zealots.
Perhaps most disturbing, Rep. Davis is Chair of the Special Committee on Children and Families and Chair of the Interim Committee on Poverty. I don't suppose the poverty committee is only an interim committee because they have a serious plan to wipe it out.
Davis claims to decry government programs, while taking home a government salary in excess of $31,351 a year for a part-time job. If Ms. Davis really thinks that "hunger can be a positive motivator," perhaps she should give back her salary and, after she runs out of money to buy food, go on a hunger strike to determine whether that gives her more motivation to get the Legislature to do more productive work.
Perhaps she should further demonstrate her anti-government credentials by refusing to drive on any roads built by government and only take roads privately built by churches. She wouldn't get very far.