The existence of hunger in a country where people are increasingly likely to be obese is confusing and adds to the challenge facing anti-hunger advocates. How do you explain that, in the U.S., hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin? A new report from the Washington Budget and Policy Center helpfully illuminates this paradox. The report notes that the parts of this state where food is grown are some of its hungriest areas, with the least access to affordable fresh food.
If you’re poor and you live near, say, Tonasket, or Entiat, getting reasonably priced fresh fruits and vegetables is going to take a lot of gas money and a dependable car. If you’re trying to fill your family up as cheaply as possible as close to home as possible, you might be looking at wheat fields and apple orchards, but at the corner market you’ll be buying ramen noodles and potato chips, which pack a lot of calories, but hardly any nutrients. It’s a recipe for obesity and hunger.
The report lists the counties with the highest rates of “food insecurity”— geek-speak for not being sure where your next meal is coming from or if it will come at all. They are the most rural counties in the state: Adams, Pacific, Asotin, Klickitat, Yakima, Okanogan, Franklin, and Chelan. The report also includes a map showing the average distance to a supermarket, and the list and map very nearly match up.
Among the solutions the report points to is expanding the programs that encourage healthy food consumption among lower income people, including WIC (the nutrition program for mothers and children), food stamps, and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. While eligibility for food stamps was recently expanded in Washington, WIC funding was cut in the last legislative session because of the state’s budget crisis, noted Linda Stone, the Children’s Alliance’s senior food policy coordinator.
In addition, she said, school meal and summer meal programs are crucial elements in ending childhood hunger in the state. The Children’s Alliance is working to strengthen these programs as part of its plan to End Childhood Hunger in Washington.
-by Carolyn McConnell
photo copyright Carina del Rosario