Nearly 1 in 5 in Chicago aren't sure about their next meal


What are you having for dinner tonight? It's a question everybody thinks about, but not everyone has an answer to. According to the latest data from Feeding America, 16.1 percent of Chicagoans are food insecure--meaning they don't always have access to enough food to make it through the day.

Even more surprising is that many of these people don't even technically live in poverty. How could a family in Chicago be above the poverty line but still struggling to feed their kids? Read on.

Feeding America just created an interactive map where you can find out how many people in your county are food insecure. Take a look at the Cook County data:

Cook Co Food insecurity.png

Poverty and food insecurity seem to go together. One of the things that makes you poor is not having enough, whether that's money, food or shelter. But shouldn't people living above the poverty level have enough to eat? If they're out of poverty, we've determined they have "enough," and yet they're reporting that they haven't had enough to eat or have had to make the choice between food and other things--like medical bills, gas or rent.

The federal 2009 poverty line for a family of four is $20,050, so 185 percent of the poverty line for that same family is $40,792. It sounded like a lot when I first calculated it, but then I realized that two parents both working full time at $10 an hour don't even make that much before taxes--$38,400.

My brain immediately jumps ahead to the question: What's going wrong here? If two people working full time above minimum wage are highly likely to be worried about whether they can feed themselves and two children, what's the problem?

Is it that our poverty measure is too low? Many have said that's true, although opponents have said that our standard of "poverty" is what many around the world would consider "rich."

Are wages too low? Studies have suggested that wages for the American worker have stagnated compared to the rise in prices, meaning previous generations could buy more with what they earned than today.

Is food too expensive? With our enormous industrial food system, food is cheaper than ever. However, nutritious food is still much more expensive than factory produced food, which is higher in fat, salt and calories.

Or are there other factors at work here? How do we make sure families in Cook County go to bed on a full stomach, not worrying about if there's enough for breakfast tomorrow morning?

It's a question many of us are hungry to find the answer to.

Photo credit: Curt Fleenor

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  • The whole premise of food insecurity is BS. No one is starving to death in this nation, not when you can stop at one of the 5 billion McDonalds this country has and get a 99 cent cheeseburger. Yes, it's not great food, but it's food nonetheless. There are people in other parts of the globe who are literally STARVING, and it's not the same here. The only insecurity I can see is lazy, neglectful parents not providing food for their children. At the end of the day, it's not about the money, but about an insidious poverty of the spirit, where people never learn how to help themselves.

  • In other words, more than 4 in 5 in Chicago can't decide whether to eat steak tenderloin or surf & turf tonight...that's not bad. I'll take those odds everyday and twice on Sunday (along with some sweet steak sauce, please).

  • Cheap, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor food may keep people from starving to death as we normally think of it, but I'd be interested to see how many people in poverty in Chicago have medical problems related to malnutrition or diabetes.
    The point isn't that they have something in their stomachs. The point is that these people don't have access to real food.
    Processed foods filled with carbs, fat, and calories are cheap, and yes they can fill you up, but people can't live on ramen or easy-mac alone. Since when should an apple, factory-farmed or not, be a luxury item?

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