Hunger in the Land of Plenty

Friday, January 16, 2009

Currently around 35 million Americans don’t have enough to eat. We look at why there is a problem of hunger in our land of plenty, and what can be done about it in a time of economic crisis. Joel Berg is executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger and author of All You Can Eat.


Joel Berg

Comments [24]

Sandra Knapp from northeast PA

Good job Joel Berg. Great discussion.
Hopefully, the more you talk about it, the more people will learn about this problem and then the country as a whole will be awakened to this deplorable situation. It's time we focus more on taking care of our own poor, hungry children for a change, and then we can begin to help the rest of the world. Charity begins at home.

Jan. 16 2009 10:16 PM
Dana Bos from Hastings on Hudson, NY

I was only able to hear a portion of the interview with Joel Berg but on this topic of Hunger in America, there are organizations such as Family to Family that are community based and are dedicated to helping families in American communities. This is a non-profit hunger relief program aimed at helping profoundly poor and hungry rural American families. Family to Family links families with more to families with much less. Once a month sponsor families prepare a box of non perishable foods for shipment to "their" needy family in another part of the country including communities in Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, Kentucky and Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, NY. By supporting this organization and sponsoring a family, people CAN make a difference. It is critical that hunger in America is a serious problem that needs to addressed. To help, you can visit

Jan. 16 2009 05:43 PM
Shelli from West Orange, New Jersey

Thank you so much for hosting Joel Berg and airing his important insights. Just yesterday a friend who is struggling to keep her family afloat in the aftermath of a domestic violence (and worse)situation sat for more than five hours trying to get food stamps. Her ex refuses to pay the support that had been ordered and hauls HER into court continually to avoid his responsibilities. She's struggling to keep the roof over her children's heads, with foreclosure looming. Yet, she left the food stamps office yesterday after wasting all that time when she could have been doing something productive, hoping she would be able to get the food assistance that she needs for her children but uncertain whether she would.

Jan. 16 2009 03:50 PM
Carol Weinstein from Chelsea, Manhattan

Thank you for your interesting program, including your interview today with Joel Berg of the Coalition against humger.

Berg was interesting and I agree with most of what he said. He is right, healthy, nourishing food is usually more expensive than healthy food like fruits, vegetables, and w;hole grain breads.

But this is not always the case. For example, powdered non-fat milk is cheaper than fresh milk of any kind. It's also good to mix it into yogurt to extend its nutrition value and save money on the yogurt.

Another example is that most beans eaten with rice or any grain make a healthy, non-fat complete protein. Furthermore, soy beans make a complete protein. These items are usually cheaper than animal protein of any kind.

Another instance is about meat. Lean cuts probably cost more as a whole. But fat-marbled steak is usually more expensive than something like veal hearts and other lean meats.


Jan. 16 2009 01:04 PM
PL Hayes from Aberystwyth

'Fraid I was only listening with one ear to this, so I may be missing the point here, but Berg's comments on 'organic' food seemed rather irrelevant. Poor people can't afford 'organic' food but so what? There is no evidence - and it is implausible anyway - that organically grown produce is intrinsically superior. As Caitlin points out, what makes the food poor people are likely to eat less healthy or less nutritious is what produce - irrespective of its organic status - that food contains and how it has been combined and treated to make the food.

Jan. 16 2009 12:50 PM
Kristin from Sunset Park

WIC also allows for $20 a year or so in Farmer's Market coupons. All the markets I went to (and they are open longer than two months) accepted EBT.

The WIC offices, from what I've heard, are less than helpful in getting the word out or even giving out the coupons. A friend was told they had "run out" and didn't have any more information.

Perhaps something has changed?

Jan. 16 2009 12:47 PM
Claudia Levy from New YOrk City

I am very interested in this topic. Thank you for airing this show.
I was recently told that a number of soup kitchens will often throw donated food away if there is not enough to serve all the people who are applying for meals. For example if there are too few shrimp no one will get shrimp on their plate. This was told to me by someone who had volunteered and in response to a question about the efficacy of The Food Bank"
Would you please comment on this if you know about these programs.
Thank you.

Jan. 16 2009 12:46 PM

As far as the poor's obesity it comes back to high fructose corn syrup, which appears in about everything you will find in a local bodega these days.

Susan - not everyone using food stamps "looks" poor. I'm sure during my FS period there were people thinking the same when they saw me, but I just happen to be skilled at looking presentable on the smallest of budgets (I was buying from thrift stores long before they were "cool"). I would imagine this is also a known skill in certain immigrant communities.

Although I'm privileged enough at this point to not think quite so much about what I place in my basket (some of you know exactly what I'm talking about), I'll never forget when I had to count every penny.

Jan. 16 2009 12:44 PM
Ciesse from Manhattan

Those enjoying this program as much I am should also listen to a similar discussion from a week ago on Brian Lehrer:

Jan. 16 2009 12:37 PM
Andrew Brooks

Mr. Berg is about half-right.

He is right about the fast food versus natural/healthy food issue.

But he is not well-informed about exactly what makes people fat. He is talking about low-fat foods as being important - this is discredited, obsolete science.

The more updated science says its all about carbohydrates NOT fat in the diet.

See Gary Taubes' latest book "Good Calories Bad Calories".

Jan. 16 2009 12:36 PM
Marissa from NY, NY

When you can buy Wise chips for $0.25 and an apple costs $0.90, it is no wonder that I see children on the subway eating chips for breakfast.

Jan. 16 2009 12:35 PM
susan buckler

I often shop in out of the way places, such as Brighton Beach and other Asian areas. I see a lot of government cards used as payment. What is this. Many of the people seem able bodied, young. I am all for helping the poor yet I suspect what is going on.

Jan. 16 2009 12:35 PM

Gary - have you heard of Monsanto and corn subsidies?

I like that your guest made a point of mentioning pride in the public schools. When I was a kid, I received free or reduced lunches and the tickets were distinctly a different color, easily identifying the poor. It sucked!

I used food stamps for a while in college, and they were wonderful. It doesn't hurt to see if you're eligible, and in my case having access to this free food to prepare wholesome meals saved my life.

Jan. 16 2009 12:35 PM
Bea from New Jersey

ditto Jenna, great idea!

Jan. 16 2009 12:35 PM
Kathy from Glen Cove, NY

One thing of note: fat doesn't contribute to obesity as much as too many carbohydrates. Of course, if it is a disproportionately high percentage of one's diet, then it will contribute to obesity.

Jan. 16 2009 12:34 PM

It would be help to have every retailer selling foodstuffs accept food stamps.

Jan. 16 2009 12:34 PM
JOEL GRABER from East Midtown

Hunger in America is an impossible sell, except for celebrity chefs and restaurants who use it for pubicity, because it is so obvious that the poorest are the most obese. Those folks are simply not "hungery."

Jan. 16 2009 12:31 PM
Jenna from Ridgewood


We should take that $1 billion we spend sending refined fuel to the Israeli military and use it to feed our people.

Jan. 16 2009 12:29 PM
Bea from New Jersey

To Gary from UWS - when's the last time you actually saw an impoverished person, face to face, and how did you know they were impoverished? The grocery prices you cited may seem low to you, but to someone who has maybe $5 to their name and no place to live it is an impossible amount. Do yourself a favor, as you write from your place of comfort, go and volunteer at an actual shelter or food pantry - then tell us how you feel.

Jan. 16 2009 12:27 PM
Caitlin from Sunset Park

Gary, you just answered your own question. Cheap foods (hot dogs, pasta) are generally high in fat and carbs, low in useful nutrients. Fruits and veggies, whole grains, and meat and dairy that aren't super-processed are much less affordable.

Jan. 16 2009 12:25 PM
Bea from New Jersey

Thank you for speaking up and educating the public about this. As an advocate for Mental Health as well as Victims of Domestic violence, many of consumers that I work with fall very easily into homelessness and poverty. I am skeptically hopeful that the upcoming administration will be more sympathetic towards these groups.
How would you suggest we engage the politicians, both at the local and national level, on these very important and critical topics and challenge them to do better?

Jan. 16 2009 12:22 PM
media consumer

I prefer reporting on the fate of Steve Jobs and his wonderful iPods.

Jan. 16 2009 12:21 PM
Gary from UWS

“Food Insecurity” is a preposterous term. How does the guest reconcile the explosion in obesity--particular among the poor--with this concept of “food insecurity”?

You can buy a satisfying hot dog at Gray’s Papaya for 75 cents. You can buy a head of iceberg lettuce at the grocery store for one dollar. Box of pasta--59 cents.

Jan. 16 2009 12:15 PM
R. Jain from New York

I'm a resident of New York city and it seems to be there is a terrible amount of food wasted on both a commercial and residential level. I myself am guilty of trashing both perishable and non-perishable items untouched. Clearly this not only has a negative impact on the environment, but I am throwing away food while men, women, and children are going hungry.

In my brief research I have come across food rescue organizations that recover food from restaurants, caterers, etc, however, I'm interested to know if there is a permanent medium that would facilitate the donation of food from a private residence. There is always the seasonal canned food drive, but I'm confident a lot more food would be donated if there were a convenient method of donation.

Jan. 16 2009 10:35 AM

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