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Letter to the Editor

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

by Thrinav Sathya

Dear Sir/Ma’am,

The problem is food insecurity. The problem isn’t just food insecurity, the problem lies in its insidious nature. No police officer or community member will ever find a dead body, killed by food insecurity, and set aside a case report, filing it as “death by food insecurity”. That’s the thing. Food insecurity doesn’t lie with what someone did. It lies with what someone else didn’t. Almost 1 in 5 children in Cook County experienced food insecurity in 2014, but nobody knew about it. In the same way that families come together to conceal drug addiction from the outside, Chicago families view experiencing hunger as a mark of shame. It shouldn’t be. Food stamps and disability checks can only take a disadvantaged family so far, and what if a family doesn’t qualify? A family’s entire financial situation cannot be summarized by a year-end income number. To the department, that’s irrelevant - families that lie above the poverty line do not qualify for assistance, and these families struggle with finding healthy food just as badly. Even for families that do qualify, most stores that carry truly healthy food, such as farmers’ markets, do not accept the blue SNAP cards that are supposed to help buy that very thing. It’s not just the availability of food that matters but the availability of healthy food. Despite the abundance of food stores in Chicago, the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported that almost 284,000 Chicago residents live in communities where they have to travel farther to buy fresh fruit than to buy salty potato chips or oily pizza.

Personal question: have you ever been to Whole Foods? While this overpriced agora for different, poorly flavored varieties of grass is certainly an extreme example, it goes to show that most people take as a fact that healthier food is more expensive food. For families that are suffering, these numbers add up; it makes sense to pick the most financially viable action. They have no more money to spare, on nutrition or otherwise. The changing climate, whether you believe it or not, is changing things. The amount of arable land is decreasing, and the number of people that land has to feed is only going up. Oil and gas are terraforming our atmosphere, lowering air quality and coming down on crops in scorching acid rain. Famine isn’t a horseman of the Apocalypse for nothing. War, Disease, Death himself, yes, they’re dramatic, but Famine? Without food, people die. The Bible, whatever your opinions or beliefs, acknowledged that. We’re unique, really - we are the first generation to live in a world where men and women die simultaneously from obesity and starvation. Some have no food at all; some would rather eat poison than starve. Society cannibalizes the weak, and poverty, when it’s not being brandished about by political firebrands, is largely ignored. We cannot stand on the shoulders of our weak and sneer when they buckle. Millions of people and millions of kids all over the world look upon us with dolorous eyes, because America is - it’s a pillar of light. It’s the leader of the free world. It’s a dream and a goal. Ask anybody who came here on a plane, anybody who applied for a visa, anybody who’s fighting to stay. I’m not here to solve immigration, to solve income inequality, or to solve poverty; I’m just here because people are starving. People are starving in America. And no one seems to know. Moving on from Malthusian predictions of dark times ahead, more pleasant news - people are starting to notice. Events like the global climate strike and the rise of Greta Thunberg have proven the existence of a population more willing to step up and help their friends, their community, and a changing world. America is changing with it. New programs set forward by the Obama Legacy Initiative such as community gardens and providing raised bed gardens to the elderly have helped make healthy food available to Chicago’s most disadvantaged. If that’s not a step closer to the light, I don’t know what else might be. But couldn’t you answer that question? Couldn’t one of the countless subscribers to the Chicago Tribune? Food insecurity is a community problem; it’s only fitting that it should have a community solution. I believe the Initiative aims to change that. I believe all of us should aim to change that. And I believe that together, all of us just might stand a chance.

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