Kids Know When They’re Food Insecure

Last week, Civil Eats published my piece on how sociologists are beginning to interview children about food insecurity in their own households—it was picked up by Slate today. A lot of the stats in the article surprised people; in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we find it inconceivable that people, especially children, are skirting around the edges of hunger.

A few more important facts that didn’t make it into the piece: One in five children in the US is food insecure; the USDA has only been tracking food insecurity since 1995 so we don’t have a longterm understanding of its effects and trajectory, although we do know that it hasn’t gotten any better in the last 22 years; heads of households who fall on hard financial times tend to cut back on food first—it’s less risky to make adjustments there than it is to a mortgage (which can lead to homelessness) or car payments (which can lead to unemployment).

Also, an important clarification: Some kids who live in food insecure households sometimes go hungry, but as the researchers I spoke to were quick to point out, a good number of them do not (there’s a difference between having nothing to eat and little to eat, or nothing or little that is of good quality). There are a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that there are levels of food insecurity, ranging from extreme to modest. But also, parents usually do what they can to protect their children from hunger, including going hungry themselves. It’s certainly unacceptable to think of children forgoing food, but it’s not much better to think of adults doing that, either, especially if, as the researchers maintain, access to (nutritious) food is a right.

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