The new face of poverty is actually a shape.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
An overweight hungry person is counterintuitive and draws little sympathy.
But poverty in America is becoming so linked to obesity that the image advocates need to portray is one they loathe to print in brochures asking for aid.
Doesnt look like theyre missing many meals, is a common dismissive response.
The attitude was a consistent reply from readers to Mondays column on proposed changes to the nations food stamp program.
Apparently, many of us prefer our hungry to be gaunt, preferably wide-eyed little children. Dont dare show an overweight mother!
People need to understand that the obese can also be hungry, or rather that they fit the wonky term food insecure. Its because of what they are eating.
Reporters who chronicle hunger can detail a common meal for low-income families: A dinner plate of spaghetti, jar sauce, no meat, often served up with a piece of buttered white bread as a side. The meal is carbo-loaded and easily prepared. Its also calorie-laden and nutritionally vacant.
But most importantly to the family, its inexpensive.
Locating, much less affording, whole grain pastas, fresh fruits and vegetables will zap a tight food budget.
Does this also speak to behaviors, habits about what people eat? Absolutely.
But habits develop and are often driven by factors not completely in the control of the person.
Thats a critical point for all of the finger-waggers. Access to any food isnt the same as access to healthy food.
You dont have a car. Food dollars are short. The nearest grocery is miles from your home. Where will you shop?
Convenience stores or fast food restaurants often do grabbing large-portion, sodium-heavy processed food as opposed to tracking down (and getting kids to eat) a salad.
Continuing research is drilling deeper into figuring out what are the true costs and barriers to finding nutritious food in many low-income neighborhoods.
No, this doesnt mean steak and lobster for one and all. The goal is pushing families toward nutrition at minimum cost.
Allowing for food stamps (actually a sort of debit card) at farmers markets is one answer. Another is an emphasis on nutrition/cooking classes and limiting processed sugars and carbohydrates in school lunch programs subsidized by government dollars.
None of this diminishes the fact that hunger in a strict sense of the word is also a problem, especially for many children.
Belly rumble hunger. The type of pangs that keep a kid unable to concentrate in school or sleep well at night.
The ugly catch is, that same child might also be well on their way toward a lifetime of unhealthy eating.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.