On the Table

Speak up about hunger

October 22, 2013 

There may be an obesity epidemic, but plenty of other people don’t get enough to eat. Especially here in North Carolina.

I was reminded of that recently when I suggested in my column that readers do a seasonal sweep of their pantries and throw away anything they know they won’t eat. One alert reader sent me this note:

“I am pretty sure you meant to say, “Go through your pantry, refrigerator, freezer and cupboards and DONATE anything you know you’re not going to eat if it is still good.”

How right she was. The hunger stats in our state should shock you.

Pitiful to know that in the U.S., only Louisiana has a higher rate of food insecurity – that’s a fancy term for hunger – than North Carolina for children under the age of 5. More than one in four children in North Carolina are regularly hungry.

Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Asheville have some of the highest rates of hunger of any cities in our country, according to a 2012 report from the Food Research and Action Center.

And hunger here is rising. The number of people participating in the federal food stamp program almost doubled in the past five years. In 2012, food banks helped feed about 2 million North Carolinians.

Nearly half receiving assistance from food banks had to choose between paying for food or heat in their homes, and about one-third had to choose between buying food or paying their rent or mortgage.

So it’s all the more egregious to think that state and federal governments have been threatening to weaken, not strengthen, support for food assistance programs.

In this time of rising need, there are things you can do:

• Give to your local food bank, churches and other groups working to help the needy.

• Make sure your representatives on the local, state and national levels know you want programs meant to support our neighbors to be bolstered.

• Help make others aware of the need. The N.C. Justice Center is running a “pledge to talk about poverty” campaign, urging people to share and discuss with family and friends their awareness of poverty in our state.

The political will to do something about hunger and poverty begins with awareness. Help break the silence.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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