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Imperium Watch: Not All Turkey and Gravy

The country faces the disturbing paradox of obesity and hunger.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thanksgiving, surely the most traditionally food-themed holiday of the year, found us facing a bizarre paradox: both obesity and hunger are on the rise. In a survey of teachers across the country by Share Our Strength, 63 percent of respondents said they regularly used their own money to buy food for hungry students. Food banks are reporting a 30 percent rise in demand.

The latest government report on "food insecurity" finds that the number of households uncertain of having enough food or unable to afford it rose from 13 million in 2007 to 17 million in 2008. The report has drawn skeptical comment, much of it in the vein of, if they're fat, how can they be hungry? Poster "jb" on the MetaFilter blog took a deeper look:

"To dismiss this real insecurity because there is also obesity is ignorant and blind. It's like saying that there can't be any floods—despite report of floods—because there is also drought. You can have floods in one place, and drought in another; or you can have floods and drought in the same place.....Obesity isn't just about eating too many calories—it's also about what your calories come from. ...And people are more likely to gain weight in times of stress and disrupted sleep habits, regardless of caloric intake. An obese person can also be food insecure—feast and famine is a reality of poverty. You do without towards the end of the month (without variety, without enough), so you binge at the beginning when you can, and then you starve again. Not falling into this habit requires a strength of mind that most middle class people wouldn't have either; they may think they do, but they haven't been tested."

Food isn't the only thing Americans are going without this holiday season. An alarming number are living in campgrounds, storage facilities, cars, waiting for a recovery that will give them a chance again. Waiting for an economy that serves the needs of working people with children, parents and health worries; an economy that keeps life manageable for ordinary people. Even more urgently than usual, the season calls for sharing.

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