OUR OPINION: Moral imperative should drive U.S. food policy

C0XY_E0M_72TN_djournal_our_opinion_stock_news_jisi_shane_2_300x225pxAnger, dismay and bewilderment followed the U.S. House’s decision to strip from the Farm Bill all of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, $70 billion per year almost always included as part of the omnibus Farm Bill but focused on feeding the hungry across our nation.

Like most federal programs of great scope, SNAP, or food stamps as it was long called, operates in various guises.

However, it provides basic and supplemental nutrition for millions of people, and no other state depends on it proportionately more than Mississippi, arguably the home of the poorest and hungriest among us.

The aim has been to meet the needs of people who are hungry and at risk of malnutrition. It’s hard, perhaps impossible and certainly judgmental to say no to a hungry person based on assumptions of bad character or individual demerit.

Statistics measure food issues in our nation, at least those addressed on a massive scale:

• In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.

• In 2011, 14.9 percent of households (17.9 million households) were food insecure.

• In 2011, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.6 percent compared to 12.2 percent.

• In 2011, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.6 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.8 percent) or single men (24.9 percent), black non-Hispanic households (25.1 percent) and Hispanic households (26.2 percent).

• Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 2.4 percent in Slope County, N.D., to a high of 35.2 percent in Holmes County, Miss.

Seven states exhibited statistically significant higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average 2009-2011:
• United States – 14.7 percent

• Mississippi –19.2 percent

• Texas – 18.5 percent

• Arkansas – 19.2 percent

• Alabama – 18.2 percent

• Georgia – 17.4 percent

• California – 16.2 percent

• North Carolina – 17.1 percent

Many people of religious faith find a moral imperative to feed people in their belief systems, teachings and stories.

In the Christian New Testament, Jesus takes the hunger of a large crowd seriously in the story called The Feeding of the 5,000, in Matthew:

“He said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.”

He did not ask for character references or employment records of anyone present. He fed them because they were hungry, an example worthy of our so-called Christian nation.