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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 2: Is scarcity the problem?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Diet diary
View the documentActivity 2: How much food is there?
View the documentActivity 3: Where does the food go?
View the documentActivity 4: Hunger in the midst of plenty


COMMON ASSUMPTION: There is not enough food to feed everyone.


Many people believe that scarcity is the cause of hunger. This lesson asks students to investigate the assumption that hunger persists because there is not enough food.


Diet Diary introduces the concepts of calories, proteins, and malnutrition by having the students examine their own diet and learn about the diets of people who do not get enough to eat.


How Much Food Is There? asks students to investigate whether there really is a shortage of food in the world and to think about why food is not getting to hungry people.


Where Does the Food Go? takes a deeper look at ways the global food system moves food away from areas where people are hungry, by studying the lives of some people who produce food. In this activity, students will use graphics, artwork, or writing to explain and understand why people who grow food go hungry.


Hunger in the Midst of Plenty introduces hunger in the United States through three stories about people who are hungry. Playwriting, peer teaching, and panel discussions are used to help students develop their ideas about why people in industrialized countries go hungry.

Is scarcity the problem


The world food supply is best described as abundant, not scarce. In the last twenty-five years, food production has grown at a rate 16 percent greater than population growth. Farmers in many parts of the world are faced with declining prices due to crop surpluses. Food spoils while waiting to be sold for higher prices.

United Nations statistics show that enough grain is currently grown worldwide to provide every person on earth with 3,600 calories per day (adult average daily requirements fall between 2,000 and 2,700) and ample protein. This does not even include the added calories and protein from the great variety of nongrain foods that are grown.

More startling, enough food is grown even in many countries where a high percentage of the population goes hungry. Bangladesh produces enough in grain alone to provide every person with about 2,000 calories each day. With some of the world's most fertile agricultural soil, Bangladesh's potential production is much greater still. Yet the average daily intake of the poorest third of the population is only 1,500 calories per person, dangerously below what is needed for a healthy life. Comparing food supply in eleven countries in 1983, we find that even in those countries regarded as hunger "basket cases" food production is not the reason why people are receiving less than 1,500 calories (see bar graph below).

Barraged by images of starving Africans, many people are surprised to learn that sub-Saharan African countries are actually net exporters of agricultural commodities. Ethiopia, the African country most associated with hunger, exported four times as much agricultural produce as it imported in 1983, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Grain Production in Calories per Person per Day (1983)

The story is the same on other continents. In India, home of more hungry people than any other country in the world, government officials worry about how to deal with more than 24 million tons of surplus grain - that's twice as much as all the food aid shipped in the world in 1985. Brazil is the world's second largest food exporter (after the United States), but it is estimated that 86 million Brazilians do not get enough to eat.

While the World Bank estimates that over 700 million of the world's people are hungry, over 40 percent of the grain produced and 40 to 60 percent of the fish caught are fed to livestock. Animals raised on this grain and fish rarely go to feed the hungry, who are too poor to buy meat. While beef production in Central America has leapt severalfold since 1960, beef consumption by local people has declined. Additionally, large amounts of land and other resources in underdeveloped countries are used for producing coffee, cocoa, fruits, flowers, and luxury foods for a local minority who can afford them and for higher-paying consumers in industrialized countries. Poor farmers growing food for their families are forced onto infertile land or off the land altogether. The UN's Fifth World Food Survey(1985) points out that rural people, people who grow food, suffer greater malnutrition than urban people.

To understand that hunger is not caused by scarcity, we need only look at the United States itself. As many as 20 million Americans don't get enough to eat. More children live in poverty today than at any other time in U.S. history. The Physician Task Force on Hunger in America reports that between 1983 and 1984 there was a 65-percent increase in the use of emergency free-food programs - during the supposed economic recovery. Over half of the recipients were children.

Who would say that people go hungry because of a shortage of food in the United States? Surely not U.S. farmers who, because of high production, cannot get good prices for their grain. Nor the U.S. government, which must store mountains of grain and enough surplus cheese, milk, and butter to provide every single American with almost fifty pounds.

We cannot assume that people go hungry because there is not enough food in the world. Only by going beyond this myth of scarcity can we begin to understand the true causes of hunger.

Food warehouse


1. How much food is produced in the world? Is there enough food to feed everyone?
2. If there is enough food, why doesn't it get to hungry people?
3. Are there hungry people in countries that produce large "surpluses" of food? What is it like to be hungry in a "rich" country?

Activity 1: Diet diary

Students will compile a list of their calorie and protein consumption for one day and can investigate the diets of three hungry families. They will also discuss the amount of grain used to feed livestock and compare the efficiency of eating a diet of grain-fed meat to eating a diet of plant materials. This activity fits very well in a nutrition unit. It is also best used with at least one other activity in this lesson to get across the idea that scarcity is not the cause of hunger.


· To define calorie, protein, malnutrition, and undernutrition and to learn ingredients for a healthy diet

· To complete a Diet Diary handout listing all food consumed in one day

· To compare how individual diets meet some basic nutritional requirements

· To contrast the students' diets with the diets of hungry families

· To discover the hidden consumption that occurs when we eat meat and discuss how hidden consumption affects the world food supply

· To discuss ways our diets could be changed to become more efficient


· Student handouts:

Diet Diary
Calories and Protein in Common Foods
Other People's Diet Diaries
The Case of the Disappearing Grain


Twenty minutes to give overnight assignment of diet record plus fifty minutes in class the following day


Class discussion


calorie, hidden consumption, legumes, malnutrition, protein, recommended dietary allowance, undernutrition


1. Introduce the concepts of calories, protein, malnutrition, and undernutrition. If time is short in class, you can prepare a handout with definitions for the students.

Calories measure the energy we get from food. Energy is needed to maintain cells, to build new cells, to build muscles, and to allow the brain to function. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates all provide calories.

The average adult needs from 2,000 to 2,700 calories each day. This varies a great deal from person to person, depending on size, age, the amount of physical activity, the climate you live in, etc. If you are pregnant, work at hard physical labor, or are growing, your calorie needs are greater.

Protein is an important nutrient because it is used for building bone, muscle, skin, and other organs; regulating the body's chemistry; and fighting infection. Protein is concentrated in animal sources (meat, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk) as well as a variety of grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Malnutrition can result from too little food (undernutrition) or too much food (overnutrition or obesity). When we speak of people going hungry, we mean they are not getting sufficient food - particularly calories and proteins - for a healthy diet. They are undernourished.


Overnutrition, which results from too much food, also represents an unhealthy diet. A diet of hamburgers, french fries, soda, and sweets, for example, may be too high in fat and sugar and too low in vitamins and minerals. Diets high in fat can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Because fat has more calories than carbohydrates or protein, a high-fat diet may contain more calories than a person can use and therefore cause people to gain weight. If there are students in the class with serious weight problems, you might omit the discussion of overnutrition (obesity) to avoid embarrassing them.

Diets that include lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are lower in fat (and therefore have fewer calories) and provide more nutrients for a healthy diet.

2. Explain to students that they will need to keep a record of their diet for one day. Give each student the handouts Diet Diary and Calories and Protein in Common Foods. Be aware of your students" food situations. A student might be embarrassed by this activity. Remind the students that the diary will not be turned in. No one will be forced to discuss his or her own diet.

3. Spend a few minutes showing students how to fill in the Diet Diary. Explain that they are to list all of the food that they consume during a twenty-four-hour period, including snacks and beverages. They should use the calorie and protein chart to estimate the number of calories and grams of protein contained in each food. Many foods are not included on the list, so ask students to estimate as closely as they can by comparing with listed foods. Good resources for more complete lists are:

· Jean Pennington and Helen Nichols Church, Food Values of Portions Commonly Used (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1980).

· Nutrition Search, Inc., Nutrition Almanac (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979).

· USDA, Composition of Foods, Handbook No. 8 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office).

· USDA, Nutritive Value of Foods, Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971).

4. The next day, discuss the following points:

a. How many calories did they consume?
b. How much protein did they consume?
c. How did their diets compare with the recommended dietary allowances for calories and protein listed in the table of calorie and protein requirements?

Explain to students that the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is not the minimum requirement for a nutrient, but the average amount needed to live a healthy, active life. Note that there are different requirements for men and women and for different age groups. You might explain that the RDA changes as nutritionists discover new information about nutrients.

5. To learn about the dietary intakes of hungry people, students can study the diets of three families in Colombia, the Philippines, and the United States. Pass out the handout Other People's Diet Diaries ( p. 29), and ask students to read the descriptions of each family's food situation. What types of foods make up the diets of poor and hungry people? From looking at their diets, can students tell whether families get enough energy? Why are the families unable to get enough food? Is it because food is scarce?

6. Give the students the handout The Case of the Disappearing Grain ( p. 30). On the handout, look at the chart Pounds of Grain to Make One Pound of Meat Point out that almost half the grain raised in the world is fed to animals. This is called hidden consumption because people only eat the animals and do not realize how much grain is fed to animals. Does this seem like the most efficient use of the world's resources? Why or why not?

Discuss different diets around the world. Look at the bar graph Where Grain Goes. Diets in other countries (France and China) are much less meat-centered than the U.S. diet. Can the students think of ways to make the U.S. diet more efficient as well as healthier? When I taught this lesson with international students, we discussed the advantages of traditional diets compared with fast-food diets. Traditional Latin American diets combine corn and beans in a manner that satisfies protein needs. Many oriental diets use rice and beans in a similar way.

7. Inform students that healthy diets can be made up of little or no meat by combining grains, legumes, and other foods to get the protein we need. If you wish to pursue this topic, the book Diet for a Small Planet is an excellent resource for you and your students.

8. Point out to students that while there are personal changes they might wish to make (such as cutting down their intake of meats or high-calorie junk foods), such changes in and of themselves will not end hunger. However, making choices based on knowledge of our bodies' real needs and the most efficient use of resources can be an empowering personal statement - a way of living closer to the world we want to be creating. (How, for example, might such choices be similar to - or different than - deciding not to smoke or not to drive a huge, fuel-guzzling car, even if you could afford it?) Activities 2-4 demonstrate that in most countries adequate food - or the potential to produce it - exists to feed everyone. But until people have access to land or jobs, no extra amount of food we "save" will end their hunger.



· Community Nutrition (periodical), Community Nutrition Institute
· Diet for a Small Planet (book), by Frances Moore LappR>· Nutrition Action (periodical) and Nutrition Scorecard (poster), Center for Science in the Public Interest


Your class can hold a World Hunger Meal for other students. This can be based on the awareness activity called Eating the Way the World Eats (pp. 8-10). Students can design the publicity and coordinate a discussion on hunger in a world of food abundance.


List all foods and beverages you consume during a twenty-four-hour period. Use the table Calories and Proteins in Common Foods to compute the number of calories and grams of protein in each food.

Diet diary

Daily calorie and protein requirements by age and sex

Calories and protein in common foods

Calories and protein in common foods - continued

Other people's diet diaries

The Case of the Disappearing Grain

Activity 2: How much food is there?

Students will use graphs and statistics to learn how much food is produced in various countries and how many people are hungry in those countries. They will discuss their ideas about why hunger and abundance can exist side by side.


· To interpret graphs on world food production and hunger using math and analytical skills
· To analyze statistics about five countries where there is food available but hunger persists
· To gain confidence and critical thinking ability with graphs and other statistics


· Student handouts: How Much Food Is There? Country cards (one card per group)
· World map (optional)
· Grain samples (optional, can be obtained by teacher at natural food stores or at feed stores)


Fifty minutes


Study questions can be turned in.


calorie, export, food bank, food stamps, food supply, import, statistics

How much food is there


1. Tell students that the class will be studying statistics on food production and hunger to better understand whether food scarcity is the cause of hunger. Begin by asking students to come up with examples of statistics they have seen (about hunger or any other topic). Do they know the sources of those statistics? Do they ever wonder how those statistics were collected? What do they think when a speaker uses a lot of statistics? Do numbers confuse or do they help a person understand? Why are statistics sometimes confusing?

2. Divide the class into five groups. Each group will be studying one country's food situation.

3. Give each student a copy of the handout How Much Food Is There? This handout contains graphs for analysis and study questions about each group's country. You will need to explain what calories are if you haven't done activity 1 of this lesson.

4. Now distribute one country card to each group. The groups will need information on the country card to complete their worksheets. Ask students to complete their worksheets by working together.

The country cards contain information about food supply in each country as determined by the UN (expressed in calories and in bowls" of grain). They also contain information on the extent of hunger in the country. Since most countries do not collect information on the percentage of their population that is malnourished, it is difficult to get this information. The Is There Hunger? section of each card uses statistics compiled from different sources. Finally, the cards contain some information on why people can't get food in each country. The countries represented were chosen for different reasons. Ethiopia was chosen because it is thought of as a hunger "basket case." Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America. The Philippines have been in the news and students have at least some familiarity with that country. South Africa is a highly industrialized country that forces the majority of its people to live in underdeveloped conditions. Finally, the United States is used because it is familiar to the students.

5. After students have completed their handout How Much Food Is There?, wrap up by discussing the questions. Make sure to spend some time discussing what students think happens to the food that doesn't reach the hungry in each country. You might want to list all countries on the board with points brought out in discussion.

Point out to students that even at the worst point of the Ethiopian famine, food was available in stores for people who could pay for it. Try to get students' reactions to this and their suggestions for changing the situation. Do students have any ideas about why high food production and high levels of hunger can exist side by side? (Activity 3 addresses this issue.)



· The Challenge to End Hunger(slideshow, filmstrip, or video), Food First
· Four Myths of Hunger: An Evening with Frances Moore Lappnd Joseph Collins (video), Food First
· Habanaae: The Animal of Friendship (filmstrip), Oxfam America
· Hunger Hotline Revisited: Global Food Crisis (film), Church World Service
· New lnternationalist (periodical)
· Oxfam America (organization)


Food stamp and government nutrition programs are vital to many people in the United States. Students can write to members of Congress to express concern about these programs, which are frequent, targets of budget cutting measures.

How much food is there - continued


1. How did food production change between 1970 and 1980?
2. How did the number of hungry people change between 1970 and 1980?
3. Do you think there is a worldwide scarcity of food? Why or why not?
4. From your group's country card, answer the following questions:

Country studied______________________________________________________________
How much food is there per person?_____________________________________________
Are there hungry people in this country? How do you know?___________________________
Why can't hungry people in the country you studied get food?__________________________


Is there hunger?

· In Northeastern Brazil, 22% of the rural children show long-term malnutrition.
· It is estimated that 86 million Brazilians (out of about 130 million) do not get enough to eat.

Why cant hungry people get food?

· Brazil is the second largest exporter of food in the world.
· The poorest 20% of the people get only 2% of the income.


Is there hunger?

· Average life expectancy is 44 years (75 in the U.S.).
· The U.N. estimated in 1977 that 4 out of 10 people received below starvation levels of food (less than 1500 calories).

Why can't hungry people get food?

· In 1983, Ethiopia exported almost 4 times as much food as it imported.

· The government keeps grain prices paid to farmers very low in order to keep food prices cheap for urban dwellers, who are more likely to riot if unable to buy food. The rural people, scattered and unorganized, sink deeper into poverty.

· 1.5 million people have been removed from their homes (and ability to grow food) by war.

The Philippines

Is there hunger?

· 1000 children die of malnutrition and infectious diseases each day. When people's ability to fight disease is reduced by poor nutrition, even measles can kill them.

Why can't hungry people get food?

· 40,000 tons of rice were exported in 1983.

· Plantation workers (much of the rural population) earn $1-2 each day and must pay taxes on that.

· The richest 20% of the people get 54% of the income; the poorest 20% get 5% of the income.

South Africa

Is there hunger?

· 50,000 black children starve every year.
· One out of three black children is malnourished.

Why can't hungry people get food?

· Blacks make up over 70% of the population, but they can only live on 13% of the land (the least productive land).

· The average black worker makes $248/month; the average white worker makes $1,024/month.


Is there hunger?

· Being poor often means being hungry. 5 million more Americans lived in poverty in 1984 than in 1980.

· The health of 1 out of 5 children under 6 years old is endangered by hunger.

· Up to 20 million people (out of 240 million) have to go hungry at least once every month.

Why cant hungry people get food?

· Cuts in human service programs (such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and child nutrition) from 1982 to 1985 were $110 billion.

· Surplus food sits in storage, waiting for prices to go up. Enough food is stored to give everyone in the U.S. 50 pounds of dairy products.

Activity 3: Where does the food go?

Students will read several short handouts about ways that the global food system allows people to go hungry when food warehouses are full. They will then draw, write, or talk about how certain aspects of food distribution affect people's lives in different parts of the world.


· To investigate where some foods are grown and where they are consumed

· To explore why people who grow food often do not have access to the food they grow or control over the land on which it is grown

· To express thoughts and feelings about the global food system through artwork, graphics, or writing


· Student handouts: Where Our Food Comes From (map) The Human Cost of Bananas Cows for Fast Food A Day in the Life of a Blueberry Picker

· Large world map

· Paper, markers, paints


Fifty minutes for readings and discussion. May require additional out-of-class time for completion of individual or group projects.


Pictures, poems, songs, or stories can be turned in.


consumer, producer



1. Since this activity involves learning about people who grow the food we eat, it is important to emphasize the global nature of the food system. Distribute the map Where Our Food Comes From and discuss the origins of several food products. You might ask students to make a list of foods and guess where they come from, or you can examine a school lunch or other meal and determine where the foods are grown. Where is the wheat in the bread grown? Where is the meat raised? If students are unsure, they can be assigned to investigate where foods originate. This can involve label reading at the grocery store and library work.

2. Each student should read one of the three stories, The Human Cost of Bananas, Cows for Fast Food, or A Day in the Life of a Blueberry Picker. Distribute these handouts accordingly and point out the location of each story on a world map.

3. Allow time for students to read in class or assign the handout overnight.

4. After the students have completed their reading, each student or group of students can complete a project from the following:

a. Draw a map or flow chart to illustrate the fate of the food the farmer grows or how that farmer's life relates to the rest of the world (as gathered from the reading). This technique for helping people better understand social and economic systems is described in the book Ah-hah! A New Approach to Popular Education, by GATT-Fly.

b. Draw a picture portraying the life of the person in the reading.

c. Write a poem, song, or story about the life of the person in their reading.

5. After students have finished their projects, ask them to share their pieces with the class. You can save space on a bulletin board in the classroom or even arrange for a schoolwide display of the students' work.

6. Wrap up this activity by discussing the following questions:

a. Why are these people, who are producers of food, unable to eat that food?
b. What are some concrete actions that would end hunger for the people in the readings?



· Agribusiness Goes Bananas (slide show), Center for Rural Studies
· Agribusiness in the Americas (book), by Roger Burbach and Patricia Flynn
· The Business of Hunger(video), Maryknoll Films
· Farm Labor Organizing Committee (organization)
· Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast (filmstrip), Packard Manse Media
· In the Rainforest (book), by Catherine Caulfield
· Rainforest Action Network (organization)
· United Farm Workers (organization)


Students can protest poor working conditions for farm workers by writing to the president of the company responsible (addresses of such companies are available from the United Farm Workers or the Farm Labor Organizing Committee) or by writing to government officials. The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (200 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201 ) is responsible for enforcing laws regarding field safety and health conditions. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (14th & Independence Avenues SW, Washington, DC 20250) is responsible for enforcing agriculture related policies.


Consumer boycotts are often organized against companies that force employees to work for little money or in horrible conditions. Students can join boycotts or organize their own.

· National Boycott News (periodical)

Where our food comes from

The human cost of bananas

Anselmo Paga is a sixty-seven-year-old Filipino farmer. He lives with his wife and five children, all but one of whom work on the banana plantation. Here he tells what happened to him and his family when the banana plantations were started by Del Monte and Dole.

"After the war, we became tenants of Beldua [a local landowner]. Our crops were corn and fiber. I was tilling a three-acre plot, but not in this area. It was somewhere near the present banana-packing plant.

"When the company started here, we did not know what to do. We were living on that land that is now full of bananas. We were just told to leave. Three weeks later they bulldozed our crops and the posts of our houses. So what could we do?

The human cost of bananas

"They paid us only a few hundred pesos. For my three acres of crops, they gave me 300 pesos [about $20]. Others got even less. Some did not get anything.

"Most of the landowners like Beldua and Umangkog became banana growers. But the land is not really theirs anymore because they have so much debt to the company.

"Nowadays you can barely count on your fingers those who remained farmers. Everybody seems to be working for the company. If I can help it, I will never work for the company. So I grow a little bit of corn on this land. Life is really hard today, even for the workers. Even on Sundays people are working. They have to earn.

"Our life was better before. Today all the workers have their masters. They cannot stop their work to rest, even for a moment, because if they do they will be kicked out."

- Based on ICL Research Team, The Human Cost of Bananas
(Manila: JCL, 1979)

peso, plantation, tenant

Cows for fast food

Carlos Castillo and his family moved onto their small plot of land in central Honduras because the landlord offered to rent it to them at a reasonable price. Their first job was to cut down the forest, then to torch the fallen trees. After that, they could plant food crops of corn, beans, and vegetables and a cash crop of chile peppers to sell at the local market.

In the rental agreement, Carlos agreed to plant pasture grass between the rows of his crops. He also agreed to vacate the land once the pasture grass took hold. Because Carlos cannot read, the agreement was explained to him at his first meeting with the landlord. He did not like the arrangement but had little choice. Where else would he find land to rent?

Cows for fast food

When the Castillo family has done the hard labor of clearing and preparing the land, they will have to move on. The land will be converted to pasture for cattle. The meat from these cattle will not be eaten by Hondurans, but it will be exported to the United States for use in fast-food restaurants.

Since 1960, Honduras has recorded a decline in the growth of food crops. At the same time, production of export crops such as cotton, coffee, and sugar has increased. In 1957, no beef was exported from Honduras. In 1978, 60 percent of the beef grown in Honduras was exported. The demand for land to raise even more beef pushes Carlos and his family farther into the forest every year.

- Based on Billie DeWalt, "The Cattle Are Eating the Forest,- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 39, January 1983


cash crop, export

A day in the life of a blueberry picker

"During the summer, some 3,000 of us leave Philadelphia to work in the farms of New Jersey. Half of us are Puerto Ricans, the rest black, and some are white. About 5 a.m. the buses begin to come around. The crew leader or one of his flunkies says, 'Come on, I have good blueberries, and we pay $1.20.' They pay for blueberries by the carrier, which holds twelve pints.

"A regular worker picks an average of thirteen carriers when the blueberries are good and four when they are not. So when we have a good day we make $16, and when we have a bad day we make $5.

A day in the life of a blueberry picker

"When the driver has finally filled his bus, we leave for the farms in New Jersey. By now it is 6 a.m. In the bus some of us sleep or talk. The bus, an old thing that is falling apart, is going like a jet.

"I look out and see the big houses with swimming pools and the other blueberry buses racing one another so they can get the best places in the fields. I think of the dilapidated house in Philadelphia where I live. How much money must the owners of these big houses have! I'm sure they don't even know the blueberry pickers exist. They only know that vegetables and fruits arrive at their table through the wonders of the supermarket.

"We arrive at Hamonton. It is 7:15. We tie the cans to our waists and pick a couple of carriers. The farmer says we have to wait until they dry a little. At 8:00 they are dry, and we get to it.

"The sun is hot and it is 12:00. The people are hungry and thirsty and buy beer, soda, and lunch from the Quick Lunch brought in by the crew leader. He charges double what it costs in the store. It is easy to spend here in the field what we earn with a lot of sweat.

"Suddenly, we hear a shout, 'Children under twelve, the inspectors are coming.' They tell the farmer he needs another bathroom because the one he has us using is flooded. The farmer protests that it costs too much. His son passes on a new motorcycle while this is going on. I think to myself, will a bathroom cost more than a motorcycle? The cops [inspectors] leave and the children keep working.

"In the store in Philadelphia, I saw the blueberries for 60 cents a pint. Over here we melt in the sun to earn 10 cents a pint. There are 350 berry pickers working. With one week of our sweat, the farmer and the others can buy a house with a backyard and a pool."

- Based on a story from Palante, reprinted in Anthony Dunbar and Linda Kravitz, Hard Traveling (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing, 1976)


carrier, dilapidated, flunkie

Activity 4: Hunger in the midst of plenty

Students will read three portraits of hunger in the United States and then develop a lesson, group discussion, or play about their reading. Realizing that hunger exists in one's own community makes activists out of many people who feel helpless to do anything about global problems.


· To see hungry people as real people, not just as statistics
· To analyze why hunger exists in the United States and discuss ways to help eliminate it
· To present ideas through a group discussion, a peer-teaching exercise, or a play


· Student Handouts:

Bread and Gravy for Supper Again
I Eat Mostly Soup
A Visit to the Delta


One hour of class time for preparation plus one hour for presentations. Allow an extra half hour if readings are done in class.


Three formats are suggested for the students' projects. Evaluation depends on the type of project but would mostly be based on participation. Study questions can be turned in.


scarcity, surplus food

Hunger in the midst of plenty


1. Ask students if they think there is a scarcity of food in the United States. Why or why not? You can use statistics from activity 2 to show the surplus of calories. Ask if there are hungry people in the United States. Who are they? Why are they hungry? Tell students that they will be reading the stories of hungry people who could be their neighbors.

2. Divide the class into three groups. Distribute student handouts to each group. Have each student read their group's story.

3. Ask each group to prepare a presentation about people described in their handout. Three possible formats for student presentations are given below. Each of the groups could split up and try more than one of the formats.

Group Discussion. Ask the students to make up questions about the handout they have been assigned. Each student can be asked to write three questions and share one with the class in a group discussion. The discussion, rather than being answer-centered, can focus on the process of searching for answers to questions from the reading. For example, a question based on the West Virginia article might be "What is surplus food?" or "Why is there so much unemployment?" These questions are not easy to answer and should not be treated as though they are. Group discussion can focus on the information students may have from their experiences and on ideas about where to find answers that seem elusive.

Co-teaching. Ask the students to teach the information in their handout to the other groups, explaining the content and message of the handout they read. Co-teaching can be very successful among high school students since it is very interactive. The method stresses cooperation within groups, decision-making skills, and reading comprehension.

Instruct students to use any method or teaching style they prefer to communicate what they feel is the major point of their reading and what they feel is a lesson contained in the reading. The group may wish to use a lecture format (delegating a single spokesperson to address the rest of the class), a panel presentation, a pretest, or a group discussion. Let them decide. Emphasize that they are not expected to have polished presentations or to explain everything. Suggest that they prepare their own handouts for the other students, and offer to help reproduce the handouts.

Role-playing. The handouts give stories and situations of people who are hungry in the midst of plenty. Ask the students to consider the situations in their handouts (or the additional role-playing suggestions in procedure step 4) and to think about how they would feel as one of the people in the situation, how other people might regard them, and what they might do about the situation. Then ask the students to develop an ad-lib play to act out some of their feelings. They can assign as many roles as they feel are necessary and formulate personalities and words for each character. If the group is less demonstrative, perhaps they can express their ideas through writing a skit or play. Remind students to develop a central idea they want their production to convey.

3. Allow time in class for group presentations.

4. You might want to add some additional role-playing presentations to the activity. Here are some suggestions.

a. It is the end of the month, and all one person can buy for a family of three is navy beans and bread, while the person ahead of him or her in the grocery line has an entire cart full of meat, fruit, and gourmet foods.

b. A family discovers that their elderly neighbor is severely undernourished because he is eating a meal only every two days.

c. A government official makes the announcement that there is no scientific evidence of hunger in the United States. This is watched on television by poor families eating at a soup kitchen nun by a local church.

5. After the student presentations, it is good to have a short wrap-up discussion. Several discussion questions are listed below. You can also ask the students to turn in the questions at the bottom of their handouts.

a. Is there a lack of food in the United States? How do you know?

b. Who is hungry in the United States? Is hunger more common among certain social, racial, age, or employment groups? (Ask students to refer to their readings or personal observations.)

c. What are some of the consequences or results of hunger for people in the articles? What does it feel like to be hungry?

d. Are there programs to end hunger in the United States? What are some examples? Are they long-term solutions? (Contact local social service agencies for information on the programs available to people in your area.)



· Community for Creative Nonviolence (organization)
· Everyone, Everywhere (film), Franciscan Communications
· Food Research and Action Center (organization)
· Poverty in the American Dream: Women and Children First (book), by Barbara Ehrenreich, et al.
· Starving in the Shadow of Plenty (book), by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel


Students can view a film, videotape, or slide show on hunger or homelessness and then arrange a showing for other students after school.


Students can volunteer at local soup kitchens, shelters for the homeless, senior citizens' centers, daycare centers, or food banks. They can raise funds to support these centers. Social service agencies, mental health agencies, and religious organizations provide the best leads for these volunteer opportunities.

Surplus government food is often distributed free of charge to needy people in many areas of the United States. Unfortunately, the locations for distribution are frequently not well publicized. Your students can investigate and then publicize food distribution locations. The information can be posted in the centers where students volunteer.

Bread and gravy for supper again

Branchland, West Virginia. Like thousands of other poor kids across the country, Jerry and Betty Elkins' three children know all too well what it's like to sit down to meager meals.

"We usually have bread and gravy the last few days of the month," twenty-seven-year-old Jerry Elkins says while waiting for a handout of federal surplus food at nearby Guyan Valley High School. "This cheese and butter will really come in handy at our house."

"I just can't find work anywhere, not even odd jobs," he says. "We're living on welfare, and just barely getting by. And things really get tough at the end of the month, when the food stamps are used up."

Bread and gravy for supper again

In August President Reagan said he was perplexed by reports of widespread hunger in America. Reagan, who announced he was appointing a task force to study the problem, said he couldn't understand how there could be so many hungry people in such an affluent nation.

Betty Elkins, a thin, dark-haired woman, hadn't heard of the president's task force but says she is well informed about its subject.

"I couldn't tell you how many times we've made a meal on bread and water gravy," she says. "The kids don't complain, though, and I tell them, at least we're not starving. Why I'd sell everything in the house before I'd let them starve."

The Elkins family lives in a rickety, rented frame house near this rural southern West Virginia community. The father says soup, beans, bread, and gravy have become an end-of-the-month staple since he lost his sawmill job thirty months ago.

"Sometimes, though, I can get a little advance on my bill at the store," he says. "Then we buy some eggs or something."

Nancy Amidei, director of the Food Research Action Center in Washington, D.C., has heard many such hard-luck tales. She says the country is teeming with hungry children.

"One quarter of all the kids in the country are members of poverty-level families," she says. "And while there's no nationwide, scientific survey, the poverty count, by definition, is a good indicator of the hunger count.

"The number of poor people in this country has been rising for the past three years and it's now at its highest rate since 1965," she says. "We're even beginning to get reports about urban, inner city children who are being hospitalized three and four months after their birth, weighing less than they did when they were loom."

In McDowell County, located in the southern West Virginia coal fields where more than 30 percent of the work force is unemployed, school officials say hunger is a way of life for many children.

"Very definitely, there are hungry children in this county," says Frances Whitten, who administers the county's school lunch and breakfast programs.

"I feel that for many of these children, the largest part of their diet is what they get to eat at school. I base this partly on my own observations and what I hear from the school cooks, who tell me how hungry the children are on Mondays."

Whitten says she did a survey several years ago and found that summer weight loss was not uncommon among the children who participate in the school feeding programs.

"We had one pupil who had lost twenty pounds over the summer," she says. "He attended a school that provided only free milk."

Ilene Welly heads the Mountaineer Food Bank, which stocks twenty-two emergency food pantries across West Virginia. She says Reagan administration cutbacks in the food stamp and school lunch programs have worsened the plight of the nation's hungry kids.

"I don't know who's kidding whom," she says. "Everybody keeps saying there's no hunger, but in West Virginia there's a staggering demand for food, especially in the southern coal field counties where so many people are out of work."

Amidei says 3 million fewer children are being fed in the school meal programs than in 1972. The Elkins' two school-age children do qualify, however, and their parents say this means they will be better fed this winter than they were during the summer.

- Adapted from Strat Douthat, "West Virginia Family Knows Hunger All Too Well,' AP Newsfeatures, November 13, 1983


food bank, staple, surplus food, task force


1. Why is the Elkins family hungry?
2. How can government officials not see that there is hunger in the United States?
3. Can you think of reasons why the number of poor people is increasing?
4. Why are food programs cut?
5. Why are many people unable to use the services of food banks, such as the one mentioned in the article?
6. What are your ideas for improving this situation?

I eat mostly soup

Theresa Skolnick is an elderly woman who lives in Philadelphia. The author of this account visited her at her home, not far from one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city.

I look around at the once beautiful sitting room with its two matching fireplaces and cut-glass chandelier made for five bulbs - only one bulb was being used. She read my thoughts. "I try to keep the cost of electricity down so that I can stay here and not lose my house. For thirty years, I've had this house. You can see that this was a beautiful house once, but now I can't afford to keep it up or to repair it or even light it.

"It's been getting worse and worse ever since my husband died. You know," she went on, being drawn back into the past, "I always wanted to die before he died. On the twenty-fifth of March, one day after my birthday, I had gone to the store and was waiting for the bus. All of a sudden, at Eighth and Market surrounded by people, I had an overwhelming feeling - that I was in the world all alone. I felt cold and I felt dark, I mean dark inside, and I stood there and I thought, my God, what's wrong with me? When I got home, the police were there waiting. They told me my husband had just died. We had been married for fifty years."

I eat mostly soup

These days, Theresa Skolnick worries about more inflation. She doesn't know how much longer she can make the money last. When she can, she buys a ton of coal for $80. Her Blue Shield and Blue Cross are $45 every other month. By the time she pays those bills and her electricity and telephone, there is almost nothing left for food.

"Meat is real high," she tells me. "When I can, I buy something that looks like veal but it's not. I really don't know what it is. I buy it in four slices and then I wrap each slice separately and freeze it and try to eat it slowly. I buy oxtail; you can cook oxtail with soup or stew. I used to love shrimp and codfish. I can't buy that. I eat mostly soup - but these days, you can't cook a decent soup. I used to get the shin meat; today I can't get that either. I tell you, you can't eat much now. I know it's not just me.

"Sometimes I watch when other elderly people come into the supermarket and I see they just stand there looking around like they are hungry and lost.

"One day about a year ago, I said, oh, the hell with it. The hell with everything. I went in to the butcher and I said, I'll take that large chicken. I didn't even ask how much it was. The chicken cost $4.98 and I bought it. It had been years since I had chicken like that."

"Do you remember the last time you had steak?" I asked.

She laughed and waved her hand. "Steak? You can't be very serious. I don't even look in that department. Once a month, I go to McDonald's for lunch. That ground meat is the closest I ever get to steak. Since you've asked me I'm going to tell you the truth. It's very, very tough."

Theresa Skolnick is one of millions of American widows who has worked all her life, receives Social Security, and still lives below the poverty line. A report issued by the Advisory Council on Social Security, submitted to the Congress for 1980, stated that about one out of every three aged widows was living in poverty even if they received Social Security. Benefits for elderly women who have never been married are even lower than the benefits for widows.

No one knows how many of these women are hungry or how many are dying alone after malnutrition has weakened their bodies, allowing the onset of other diseases.

But we do know that most of the women who worked long and hard for wages were usually locked into traditional "female" occupations. Their salaries were meager even then, and their Social Security benefits, which are based on their earning levels, are now very low. For many, survival without outside help is nearly impossible.

- Adapted from Loretta Schwartz-Nobel, Starving in the Shadow of Plenty (New York: The Putnam Publishing Group, 1981)


inflation, malnutrition


1. Why is Theresa Skolnick hungry?
2. How does she survive?
3. What kinds of help does she receive from the community?
4. What can we do about the situation of Theresa and the many others like her?
5. Why are aged women more likely to live below the poverty line than aged men?
6. Why are seniors more likely to go hungry than younger adults?

A visit to the delta

These are the impressions of several doctors who visited Mississippi to study hunger in that state.

Everything is so clear in the Mississippi Delta. One drives down the long roads of rich farmland stretching to the left and right, land that has supported productive soybean and cotton crops for two hundred years. Suddenly the panorama is broken by a stand of trees with a big house and several little houses trailing away from it, homes for the poor black tenants whose families have lived in the unheated shacks for decades.

A visit to the delta

Signs proudly proclaim the name of each plantation. No attempt is made to hide, excuse, or change the enormous gap between rich and poor, black and white in this region of the nation. So long have many of the residents lived in this environment that they defend it without shame. "There's no hunger here," one local doctor reported, generalizing from his wealthy white patients, no doubt, to the poor blacks he never treats. "Every specimen I see on the street is fat and shiny."

But there is substantial hunger in this rich agricultural region. It is simple to find and easy to see. But so are all the other problems that accompany hunger here. People don't just get to be hungry in the Delta without having other things that are not right in their lives: dilapidated housing, no jobs, lack of health care. We easily found many people crippled by the experience of poverty and racism, lives that cannot easily be repaired by a particular program. But the people are also hungry, and that is a problem quite easy to remedy.

In fact, hunger in this region was decreased by the federal nutrition programs during the last decade. Some of the physicians in our group had seen the progress firsthand, having lived in Mississippi all their lives. Others had actually traveled to the Delta with the U.S. senators in 1967, and had returned in 1977 to find that hunger and malnutrition had decreased. Many of the programs that helped fight hunger have now been canceled.

On this trip, in 1984, the four doctors were visibly shaken by what they saw. Inside the remnants of a house, alongside a dirt road in Greenwood, lived a family of thirteen people. Graciously welcomed by the mother and father, the doctors entered another world - a dwelling with no heat, no electricity, no windows - home for two parents, their children, and several nieces and nephews. Clothes were piled in the corner, the substitute location for closets, which were missing; the two beds in the three-room house had no sheets, the torn mattresses covered by the bodies of three children who lay side by side. In the kitchen a small gas stove was the only appliance.

No food was in the house. The babies had no milk; two were crying as several of the older children tried to console them. "These people are starving," the local guide told the doctors. Twice a week she collected food from churches to bring to the family. It had been this way for two months while the family waited for the local food stamp office to determine whether they were eligible for food stamps. Only the flies that crawled on the face of the smallest child seemed to be well-fed. The parents were not; they had not eaten for two days. The children had eaten some beans the previous evening.

A few houses away two other doctors spoke to a hungry, pregnant woman whose infant son recently died. She had been cut off welfare benefits after a dispute over whether she was qualified, leaving her $60 monthly food stamp allotment as the only income each month for herself, the unborn child, and her five-year-old son. Her refrigerator had three sticks of butter and some powdered milk.

One of the doctors quietly shook his head, "What you're looking at are the faces that become infant mortality statistics."

These families were not unusual. Nearly one quarter of Mississippi's population, over 580,000 people, live below the federal poverty level.

- Adapted from Physician Task Force on Hunger in America, Hunger in America: The Growing Epidemic (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1985)


dilapidated, federal nutrition programs, food stamps, infant mortality, plantation, poverty level, statistics, tenants, welfare


1. Why don't people on the Delta have decent homes, jobs, or health care?
2. How can hunger occur in such a rich agricultural area?
3. What is racism? How does it relate to hunger?
4. What can a hungry family in Mississippi do for help? Is it a lasting solution?
5. Can you think of lasting solutions to the problem of hunger in Mississippi?