The Growing Face of Modern Hunger in America (video)

Their numbers are well documented on government statistics, and survey results. Their highest counts are located in the following 10 States: Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Maine, South Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri*. There are 36.2 million of them; 12.4 million are children. For the most part, this group does not comprise the mentally ill, criminals, or those we may criticize as being lazy or stupid; indeed, many are of the working poor. They are like you and I perhaps, except for one thing: they live just above (or below) the poverty line, and they must struggle at times to obtain food to eat. They are the silent citizens of the food insecure nation—America.

In this story, Kathleen McDade, her husband, and their three young children, live pay check to pay check. Though both work for the local school district, they are sometimes unable to provide food to feed their family. Their individual plight is but one example of what some experts are saying is a breakdown of the federal nutrition safety net, a group of federal food assistance programs designed to prevent people from going hungry.

By contrast, what does the face of 36.2 million people look like? How long a line would they stretch, if standing end to end, to form a single soup line? In America, do we continue to allow people to go hungry? And if so, how are we able to define our greatness?

Related post: Joel Berg: How to End Hunger in America, Berg identifies the extent of the current hunger crisis, and traces the history of how we have systematically dismantled the federal nutrition safety net, while at the same time allowing income disparity in America to expand to historic proportions. Berg believes the Federal Government must take the lead role again if we are to solve the hunger crisis in America. Joel Berg: How To End Hunger In America-Part 2

Recipe from this show: Working Mom’s Potato Soup

In the United States hunger manifests itself, generally, in a less severe form. This is in part because established programs – like the federal nutrition programs – help to provide a safety net for many low-income families. While starvation seldom occurs in this country, children and adults do go hungry and chronic mild undernutrition does occur when financial resources are low. The mental and physical changes that accompany inadequate food intakes can have harmful effects on learning, development, productivity, physical and psychological health, and family life.

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)


A2H Network agencies [Food Banks] serve a broad cross-section of households in America. Estimates of key characteristics include:

  • 36.4% of the members of households served by the A2H National Network are children under 18 years old
  • 8% of the members of households are children age 0 to 5 years.
  • 10% of the members of households are elderly.
  • About 40% of clients are non-Hispanic white; 38% are non-Hispanic black, and the rest are from other racial groups. 17% are Hispanic.
  • 36% of households include at least one employed adult.
  • 68% have incomes below the official federal poverty level during the previous month.
  • 12% are homeless.

Hunger In America, Key Findings 2006

More than 13 million families in 2004 were unable at times to buy the food they needed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Finances are so strained for 5 million of those families that one or more members goes hungry as a result.

The Causes Behind Hunger in America, November 22, 2005. NPR.

*From the Latest USDA Report Household Food Security in the United States, 2007 (PDF)

From Hunger to Fame, With a Shoestring Menu (NYT, 1-15-2014, Jack Monroe Has Become Britain’s Austerity Celebrity)


  1. FDC says

    I’m sorry but they should have found a better example of a family struggling with hunger. I had a hard time finding sympathy for Kathleen McDade when she pulled out her expensive Apple laptop to ‘blog’ about her injustice in not being able to get food from the food pantry. What you were really saying when you did that is that your problem wasn’t as big a deal as you were making it out to be. Her generation is its own worst enemy in the living from paycheck to paycheck problems. It wasn’t a lack of money and it wasn’t a lack of food it was a lack of planning and a refusal to admit and accept the realities of their living conditions. You can’t live on pride and boiled laptop is not tasty. Does her area not have a pawn shop? I can see her now, ‘Why should have to give up my laptop so my family can have food?’ Because food is more important to your family’s survival than your laptop-duh!
    Living below or just at the poverty living in America is not new. She may never do better than she’s doing now, stop worrying about it and make the best of what you have. Next year, you need to plant a garden, next year you need to learn to can, next year you need to let others know you are struggling and work together to do better. Spend less time blogging with strangers and more time knowing your community. If you’d been smarter, you’d have asked the food pantry for some other suggestions, they might have made a phone call for you to pick up food from a local restaurant that would have had to throw excess out, they might have been able to intercede on your families behalf at the farmer’s market. The time you waste on email or blogging, is a luxury of time you do not have if you are living close to the wire, people cannot send you money or food via an email. Next time if you need food stamps, if they give you $300, spend $275, if they give you $200, spend $175 just like you save money, you also set aside a portion for an emergency. I lived on food stamps for almost 5 years while working 40hr a week in a minimum wage job raising a child as single parent. I kept a small garden by the garage of the house I rented with lettuce, greens and tomatoes, once someone hopped the fence of the yard and stole all the lettuce, greens and tomatoes that my daughter and I depended on to supplement what food stamps didn’t cover and the fact that l lived in the inner city where grocery stores were hard to get to and seldom had fresh fruits and vegetables in them. I was so devastated but friends and family took plants from their gardens and replaced what they could of what was stolen. Other families and mine co-oped berry picks and food harvests (bottom line the one that had a car got gas money from the other 3 to take us all out to a farm that had all you can pick) and we’d meet at one kitchen to wash, process and pack up strawberry jam or corn or tomatoes for our families for the winter months ( all the gossip, all the jokes, all the laughter of hosing off toddlers on a hot Summer day with sticky fingers and berry covered faces). This younger generation thinks they are too good to replace convenience with patience, hard work and practicality and too self centered to depend on each other and that’s not a good thing.
    Charity begins at home, from what I could see you are raising three daughters who appeared respectful and you are both loving parents, work on being smarter parents. The skills you learn and pass on in providing for your children will serve them later. I know wealthy people who don’t need to but still grow a vegetable garden even if they give the food to the poor so they don’t lose those skills or lose touch with life, they are rich on so many levels.

    • says


      I can understand where you are coming from, but I do feel your comments are a bit harsh. First, let me say, I do not present myself as the expert on food insecurity, I have only my opinion. Second, in regards to picking a better example of food insecurity, this is but one example, there are certainly many others. This video shows with this particular family, food insecurity can happen to anyone, and many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. I also think that being smarter is not necessarily the real problem with food insecurity in America. It’s a complex problem, but there are certainly forces that operate beyond the control of the individual, and that these times are very difficult times for many Americans. Whatever your particular political persuasion, and however strong your belief in one taking personal responsibility for ones situation, there are many more people that are struggling as a result the recent economic meltdown of our economy. As you probably know, 8 million people have lost their jobs since 2008 when the recession began. According to the Wall Street Journal, 1 in 4 homes is underwater, that is, the homes are worth less than the amount of their mortgages. These are tough times, I have empathy for people who fall short. I should also add, they do have a food garden but in late February there was nothing growing in it.

    • Connie says

      REALLY bad example of hunger….

      I dont ever want to hear someone say that they were on food stamps because one parent was a “stay at home parent” while the other one worked.

  2. Kimberly says

    If she posted on her blog, why don’t they sacrifice their internet money… that’s at LEAST $30 a month. Just a little confused about that.

  3. says

    Thanks, Keli. It’s a situation many more of us are going to be discovering in this downed economy, I’m afraid. Kathleen made a post on her blog last night and said she now has emergency funds set aside, just-in-case, thanks to her tax refund check.

    There is more we can do, such as volunteering more often as you suggested. Kathleen mentioned (in a part of the interview that was not used) establishing a sort of community dinner where folks, no matter their economic situation, can come together to share food with each other. Like she said, it’s not ‘us’ who have & ‘them’ that don’t – it’s something concerning *all* of us.

    I’m in total agreement with you, Sara. Something needs to be done. A more realistic living wage perhaps; the pricing for good fresh food in grasp for the many, not the few; health care costs coming down; the list goes on!

    Joel Berg offers some solutions in the upcoming post tomorrow. Change can happen, but action must be taken in order for it to occur.

  4. Sara says

    Thanks for doing this interview. It’s true, people don’t know…
    My hat goes off to this family doing their best to do the best for their kids.
    Something must be done so that working parents can make enough money to feed their families. The widening income disparity has been a scandal for two decades now…

  5. Keli Whidden says

    What a moving video. That is a great deal of stress they are dealing with as a family. I did not know that food banks were often open during “business hours”, though I guess it makes sense that it would be hard to operate with volunteers through evenings and weekends. I now have a strong urge to check into our local situation and see if there is something I can do beyond my usual holiday volunteering.
    Thanks again for talking about these things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *