In a letter to Congress in May, 1969, President Richard Nixon wrote:
"We have long thought of the United States as the most bounteous of nations. In our conquest of the most elemental of human needs, we have set a standard that is a wonder and aspiration for the rest of the world. Our agricultural system produces more food than we can consume, and our private food market is the most effective food distribution system ever developed. So accustomed are most of us to a full and balanced diet that, until recently, we have thought of hunger and malnutrition as problems only in far less fortunate countries.
"But in the past few years we have awakened to the distressing fact that despite our material abundance and agricultural wealth, many Americans suffer from malnutrition....That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable."
In this letter, President Nixon called for improvements to what is now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), urged a new model of nutrition assistance for mothers and children (that became WIC), and called for food processors and distributors to join this fight for improved nutrition across the country.
Forty-four years later, hunger and malnutrition are still affecting millions of Americans. SNAP now serves one in seven Americans, mostly children.
Now, in the effort to cut government spending to the bone, a 2009 increase in SNAP benefits has expired and Congress shows no intention to reinstate it. For many people still struggling from the recession and the continued lack of jobs, the cut to their SNAP benefits may leave empty plates on dinner tables. For families already living in poverty, a reduction of just 20 or 30 dollars can make the big difference.
Our agricultural production has more than kept pace with population growth. In 2006, American farmers produced enough food for each person to consume 3,900 calories per day, almost double the recommended caloric intake for an adult. And yet, not everyone is getting the bare minimum.
Surely, if it was "embarrassing and intolerable" for hunger to exist in our country (or our world, which also produces more calories than needed to feed everyone) in 1969, it is even more true now. The reality of the SNAP cuts are that more people will go hungry; food banks will be busier than ever, but unable to make up the shortfall; and stores in under-served areas that rely on SNAP purchases will suffer.
The most important part of that is that more people will go hungry. And that is embarrassing and intolerable.