Rocky Mountain News, January 30, 2008: Millions going hungry

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By Paul Campos

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Because I’m an upper class American I often get expensive stuff for free. For instance, last weekend my friends Melanie and Dave took me to an NBA game. We had excellent tickets with a combined face value of several hundred dollars, but we paid nothing for them because Melanie’s father’s girlfriend had been given the tickets by her employer (who no doubt deducted them as a business expense).

The next night I went to a bar association event at a fancy Denver hotel, where I enjoyed a very nice free meal (steak, salmon, surprisingly well-prepared potatoes au gratin, and a somewhat-too-sweet slice of chocolate cake). Walking to my car afterward, I encountered a beggar – a woman who asked me for a dollar so she could buy a hot dog.

I thought of that woman the next day, when I read Megan McArdle’s claim that while “obesity is a problem for the poor in America . . . food insufficiency is not.” McArdle, who writes for The Atlantic, is against giving poor people more food stamps because “there is no evidence the poor need more food.”

This is such a sublimely clueless statement that I looked up McArdle’s biography on the Atlantic Web site, to try to determine if she is an actual human being, or some sort of cyberspace caricature designed to drive me insane.

Here it is: “Megan McArdle was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and yes, she does enjoy her lattes, as well as the occasional extra dry skim milk cappuccino.” (You can’t make this stuff up).

McArdle, a self-described “econoblogger” with an MBA from the University of Chicago, simply doesn’t believe poor people are going hungry in America today. After all, she says, look how fat the poor are! (It’s true that in developed economies body mass is inversely related to socioeconomic status, but people who think this proves that “food insufficiency” isn’t something the poor need worry about should have their econoblogging licenses revoked).

Speaking of economics, here are some statistics: Nearly three in 10 American households live on yearly incomes of less than $25,000. And more than 40 million Americans live in households that must get by on less than $15,000 per year. Ten million American children live in “food insecure” homes, where finding the means to keep hunger at bay is a constant battle.

If McArdle bothered to glance up from her four-dollar extra-dry skim milk cappuccino, she would notice that hunger in America isn’t just something experienced by the upper class women of Central Park West, who “voluntarily” starve themselves to conform to the aesthetic standards of their peculiar milieu.

Consider a divorced mother of two small children, who works full time but earns only $300 a week. Again, in America today there is nothing at all unusual about such circumstances. What can one say about the money-sheltered ignorance that fails to comprehend that such a woman will sometimes have to choose between going hungry, or fixing the car, or buying her children medicine, or paying the heat bill?

In the richest country in the history of the world, hunger is still widespread because we allow it to be. Federal anti-poverty programs, inadequate though they are, actually protect many of our fellow citizens from the threat of outright starvation.

In the end, refusing to recognize that every day millions of Americans go hungry because they can’t afford enough to eat is another way of promoting the idea that we need no longer worry much about the problems of the poor.

Or, as McArdle might put it, let them drink lattes.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at

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