Thursday, November 16, 2006

No more hunger in the USA
"What?" you say. "When did that happen? I'm sure there are still hungry people in the USA." According to the US Department of Agriculture's annual report 35 million people could not provide food for themselves or their families for at least part of last year. In the past, the USDA described that condition as "hungry." This year those people are merely experiencing "low food security" or "very low food security."
Mark Nord, the lead author of the report, said "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey." Nord, a USDA sociologist, said, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined "very low food security" to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.


Three years ago, the USDA asked the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies "to ensure that the measurement methods USDA uses to assess households' access -- or lack of access -- to adequate food and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound."

Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the USDA scrap the word hunger, which "should refer to a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

I know that condition might sound like hunger to you or to me, but we lack the scientific and political sophistication that permeates the Bush administration. These are the same people who dealt with global warming by changing all of those alarming statements that melting ice caps "will" cause coastal flooding into much more comforting statements that melting ice caps "might" cause coastal flooding. These are the same people who make sure the Untied States isn't a torturing country by periodically redefining torture.

The USDA has a goal of cutting the number of people experiencing "low food security" (hunger to you and me) in half by the year 2010, despite the fact that the number has been rising since the Bush administration took over. Maybe they can meet that goal by redefining hunger to "pain equal to or greater than that experienced during major organ failure."

It's been said before, but it always bears repeating: 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to manual.

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