Throughout the holiday season our favorite brands, banks and stores encourage us to join them in donating to put food on the tables of hungry families. The trouble is that when we support these initiatives - and reward the companies who create them - we risk conceding that hunger is the problem rather than economic realities. Our enthusiastic giving to food causes can make us passively complicit when companies pay less than a living wage; when support programs provide less than a person with a disability or dire need can subsist on; when working parents can't afford to feed their children.
The majority of families facing food insecurity in the U.S. are working families. And SNAP (food stamps) has been drastically cut back and is not enough. More than half of recipients still need to avail themselves of local food banks each month. What have we done? Rather than giving families access to work that pays enough to live and eat we've created a fake currency system that has to be combined with money to buy groceries. We've also created an extensive (and expensive) network of pseudo grocery stores - food banks - that low-income families need to go to in addition to the grocery store. All just to feed their families.
We should not abruptly stop supporting food causes, but we have to consider what else we're implicitly supporting by making food happen in this roundabout (separate but not equal) way. The persistence of low-wage work, high-cost of living in poverty and the results of income inequality are just a few of the things we're excusing when we give to help feed a family without working to change our economic realities. We're supporting the status quo - an expensive one - and I, for one, am not comfortable with that.
So make your gift to your local food charity, then do something more. Refuse to accept that our current ways of giving help are good enough. Take a stand and demand that by next Christmas season America's hunger problem will be significantly decreased, not by food aid but by real economic shifts. It's hard to know where to start so here are a few things we can all do so that families can independently pay for all their groceries at the market and feed their families with dignity.
- Encourage your state to counter the cuts in SNAP benefits through any means necessary. Food banks around the country are reporting that they can barely keep up with the need for food since those cuts went into effect.
- Weigh in on the question of city, state and federal minimum wage, underemployment (employing more and more of the workforce part-time), living wage or even basic income guarantee.
- Work to counter the high cost of being poor. Encourage your employer to provide paid sick time and paid leave and transportation support for even part-time and hourly workers. Encourage your city to actively support affordable housing. Make noise about public transportation availability at off hours and between low-income housing areas and low-wage employment areas in your community.
This holiday season, demand more.