Outside editorial: Ending hunger - by renaming it, that is

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2006

The following editorial first appeared in the Washington Post:

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The Agriculture Department has taken what you might call the Scarlett O'Hara approach to Americans without enough to eat: It will never call them hungry again. Rumbling stomachs? Malnourishment? That's not hunger, the department says. It's experiencing "very low food security."

Maybe there's some scientific basis for this Orwellian recasting. The lead author of the annual report on Americans' access to food told The Post's Elizabeth Williamson that "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured." The bland phrase "food insecurity" has been used for years to describe households that have problems putting enough food on the table - though until this year they were divided into two groups: "food insecurity without hunger" and, for those in the most desperate straits, "food insecurity with hunger." This latter group is being renamed "very low food security," meaning those in it show "multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake." In other words, they're hungry.

Whatever the intention, this linguistic airbrushing diminishes the shame of the problem, its persistence and its scope. That 11 million Americans reported going hun - sorry, reported disrupted eating patterns - is a national embarrassment. In this group, 96 percent said they cut the size of meals or skipped meals because they didn't have enough money. The same percentage said their food did not last and they did not have enough money to get more.

At least the Agriculture Department doesn't have jurisdiction over national monuments. Otherwise, just imagine it going after the inscription on the Statue of Liberty next: "Give me your energy-deficient, your financially challenged, your space-impaired masses yearning to breathe free."



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