The Department of Agriculture releases annual reports chronicling Americans’ access to food. This year, they’ve decided that “hungry” is an inappropriate adjective for people who can’t afford any.
Mark Nord, the lead author of the report, said “hungry” is “not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey.” Nord, a USDA sociologist, said, “We don’t have a measure of that condition.”
The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans — 35 million people — could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined “very low food security” to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.
In the words of Mark Nord, “Hunger is clearly an important issue, but lacking a widespread consensus on what the word ‘hunger’ should refer to, it’s difficult for research to shed meaningful light on it.”
The lack of consensus is because…
Three years ago, the USDA asked the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies “to ensure that the measurement methods USDA uses to assess households’ access — or lack of access — to adequate food and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound.”
Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the USDA scrap the word hunger, which “should refer to a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation.”
To measure hunger, the USDA determined, the government would have to ask individual people whether “lack of eating led to these more severe conditions,” as opposed to asking who can afford to keep food in the house, Nord said.
Anti-hunger advocates say the new words sugarcoat a national shame. “The proposal to remove the word ‘hunger’ from our official reports is a huge disservice to the millions of Americans who struggle daily to feed themselves and their families,” said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy group. “We . . . cannot hide the reality of hunger among our citizens.”
I agree with the sugarcoating statement. Better safe than sorry, anyway, right?