When I addressed this issue more than four years ago I quoted author Gertrude Stein, who long ago declared “Americans are brought up to believe in boundlessness.” To us, abundance is a given. Plenty is the norm.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the output of America’s farms. In 2015 the country produced $400 billion worth of food.
Locally, the numbers are also impressive: Ventura County produced $2.2 billion worth of agricultural products in 2015, Santa Barbara $1.4 billion, and San Luis Obispo $915 million, for a total of $4.5 billion.
In the midst of such a plentitude of food, how can anyone be in danger of not having enough to eat? Added to this is the startling fact that in 2105 Americans wasted $165 billion worth of food, enough to feed 25 million people.
“Food insecurity” — hunger by any other name — is defined by the Department of Agriculture “as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life,” and it is not confined to an urban ghetto or to Appalachia. It afflicts some 50 million Americans in every state and every city in the country. One in five American children are at risk of hunger, with the number higher among Hispanics and African Americans.
Our Central Coast is no exception. About 79,000 people in Ventura County are food insecure, 50,000 in Santa Barbara County, and 38,000 in San Luis Obispo County. That means 167,000 of our neighbors are concerned about where they will get their next meal.
Fortunately, the Central Coast has many people and organizations doing all they can to help alleviate the problems of hunger and poverty.
Jon Bronkowski, director of the Central Coast Rescue Mission, says his group “is not just interested in feeding people and leaving them in the ditch. We want to give the least, the last and the lost a hand up and offer them a different path.”
Among other groups attempting to feed the hungry and help lift the poor out of poverty are the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, San Luis Obispo Food Bank, and the Five Cities Homeless Coalition. A more complete list can be found online.
“Most of our guests are low-income individuals with approximately 30-40 percent being homeless,” said Bronkowski. “When our food pantry is operational we will serve between 60 to 100 families per week.”
But programs and organizations like these are not popular everywhere. Lawrence Kudlow, a conservative commentator and author, states that food stamps, unemployment insurance and disability insurance are “incentives not to work,” and would end them if he could. These sentiments are echoed by other conservative thinkers like the followers of the late Ayn Rand, who described people on any sort of public assistance, including both Social Security and Medicare, as “moochers and parasites.”
In what can only be described as sublime irony, Rand was on both when she died of lung cancer in 1982.
Bronkowski sees it differently: “Good deeds pave the way to good news. … I get to see how compassion can impact lives on a daily basis.”
It’s the holiday season now, a time when many people are thinking of ways to help the less fortunate. Perhaps words from Good King Wenceslaus, a Central European Christmas carol, put it best: “Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing. He who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”