A closer look around, however, reveals a state in which 19.2 percent of households experience food insecurity – the threat of not having enough to eat – every day.
Food insecurity exists in every county in America, and Mississippi has one county,
Holmes, with the highest rate in the country: 37 percent.
That Mississippi also has the highest obesity rate adds complex and dangerous irony to the hunger situation. People can be morbidly overweight and be inadequately nourished. Seven states have been cited by national anti-hunger organizations for statistically, significantly higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. average from 2009-2011:
• United States – 14.7 percent
• Mississippi – 19.2 percent
• Texas – 18.5 percent
• Arkansas – 19.2 percent
• Alabama – 17.4 percent
• Georgia – 17.4 percent
• Florida – 16.2 percent
• North Carolina – 17.1 percent
Most people don’t know about hunger because they have never experienced its“dictionary" symptoms for longer than a few minutes:
• A craving, desire, or urgent need for food
• An uneasy sensation occasioned normally by the lack of food and resulting directly from stimulation of the sensory nerves of the stomach by the contraction and churning movement of the empty stomach
• A weakened disordered condition brought about by prolonged lack of food (die of hunger)
The “hungriest” states, not coincidentally, all are part of what’s historically called the “Old South,” and their food insecurity issues are rooted in centuries-old issues of justice, discrimination, endemic poverty and hopelessness.
Some of the seven states have made impressive progress away from their social injustice heritage; some remain burdened by its vestiges, as is the case in Mississippi – plus the non-racial but poverty-related plight of poor Appalachian white people, and a terrible education deficit.
Public officials like Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith fortunately are fully engaged in efforts to resolve the problems on several fronts.
People who live in Mississippi and see up close how some people live know why food pantries and feeding programs have proliferated.
The response, of course, is deeply rooted in our state’s ubiquitous religious faith, people from all walks of life and situations.
Many Mississippians are moved by the commandment articulated 2,000 years ago by Jesus of Nazareth, who told his followers (Matthew 25):
• Feed the hungry
• Give drink to the thirsty
• Clothe the naked
• Shelter the homeless
• Visit the sick
• Visit those in prison
• Bury the dead
All are simple, necessary acts, and Jesus didn’t mention determining who might of might not be worthy. If the need is apparent, he in effect said, meet it.