OAKLAND, CA -- December 20 -- The growing ranks of the working poor, homeless and hungry are straining the food bank system, making the 25-year-old emergency food service into the defacto anti-hunger program in the United States, a role it was never intended to play, according to a new report by Food First.
The report, "Beyond the Food Bank," describes a system burdened by excessive demand, the result of decades of cuts to government anti-poverty programs combined with persistent unemployment, underemployment and a minimum wage unable to provide families with even the most basic necessities. The report also describes creative local initiatives to feed communities that are sprouting up in low-income neighborhoods across the country.
"Poverty, not scarcity, is a key reason why over 23 million Americans seek emergency food each year," said Brahm Ahmadi, co-author of the report with Christine Ahn. "In the wealthiest nation in the world, 13 million American children worry where their next meal is coming from because their parents do not earn enough to pay for food, rent, heat, health care and transportation."
Apart from providing food for millions, food banks also provide a tax shelter for major corporations and agribusinesses. According to the report, corporations can deduct up to twice the cost of production for their donated products, encouraging these companies to send damaged goods or test products that would otherwise get thrown out. Not all of the donations are nutritious and some aren't even edible.
"The Food Bank of Southern California in Long Beach was given wallpaper, glue, plumbing items, even lingerie" said Christine Ahn. "These examples illustrate how corporations take advantage of the tax breaks and exposes the limitations of relying on donations from such programs."
In neighborhoods across the United States, local initiatives such as wholesale and subsidized food outlets, community gardens and kitchens, and alternative grocery buying clubs offer effective solutions to growing hunger and empower people to have more control over what they eat.
The report points out that food banks are a vital emergency safety net for the hungry. But reliance on food banks does not solve the growing problem of hunger in the United States and may even encourage a cycle of dependency as food banks scramble to meet the increasing needs of the chronically hungry.
The report states that ultimately it is the government's responsibility to ensure the human right to food for all in the United States. Therefore, it should support community initiatives that allow people to meet their own food needs instead of relying on food bank donations.