Cultures

The Structural Violence of Hunger

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Structural Violence

Image: Suzanne Tucker Shutterstock.com

Hunger has become a huge issue in the U.S. Over 40 million Americans live below the poverty line and experience food insecurity. The hunger issue is the complicated result of several factors. All of these factors work together to create a structure that hurts the poor the most. Structural violence is when social structures are set up to hurt or hinder a certain group of people. The reality of hunger in the US is a form of structural violence. Here is a look at the factors that create a structure of hunger.

Food deserts

A food desert is a place where there is no access to healthy foods and produce for a certain number of miles. Several of these food deserts are rural areas, but several urban food deserts are inner city minority and/or impoverished neighborhoods where there is no access to the type of store that would provide anything but processed and unhealthy foods. This creates an environment where there is simply no access to healthy foods to eat. This situation increases the amount of illness, malnutrition, undernutrition, and obesity. Many people are thought to have more than enough nutrition because they are obese, when in fact, obesity can be a result of severe malnutrition. Food deserts are the most obvious indication of structural violence geared toward those living in poverty.

Cost of healthy foods

Harvard recently conducted a study suggesting that a healthy diet is significantly more expensive than an unhealthy diet. The difference may not be as great as expected, but a healthy diet costs about $550 more per year per person. So, in single income or single parent homes with multiple children, the cost increase quickly becomes high. For a family in deep poverty (as 40+ million people in the US are) the added cost means that they are not able to afford healthier food. When your expenses outweigh your income, cutting corners makes the ends meet. It is easy for a middle-class American or wealthy politician to say that it is not that much more expensive to buy healthy food, but to the poor, it is not that simple. Therefore, even if they were not in a food desert, those living in poverty may not be able to afford healthier food.

Cognitive development

Several studies have found that lack of proper nutrition at crucial development stages can lead to impaired cognitive development. So, for impoverished people in food deserts, the lack of healthy foods at crucial developmental stages may hinder cognitive function for the rest of their life. The reality that poor people are less likely to be capable of getting a higher education, both financially and cognitively, because of their poor diets, is clearly a form of structural violence. The inability to improve the situation through education and better jobs means that the poor stay poor and unable to leave the situation that caused their poverty and hindered cognitive function. The repeating of this cycle falls squarely under the definition of structural violence.  

So, What can be done to break up the structures that keep people poor and hungry? Organizations like Feeding America that make healthy food available to hungry people are important resources. Through organizations like this, people can donate as little or as much as they are able to and still make a difference. Donating canned goods to a food bank near you is a great way to make a difference.

The trend of Urban farming is also making healthier foods available to people within food deserts. This requires land and people to work the land to create a crop of vegetables and fruits, and are sometimes not a realistic option. Another great way to bring positive change would be for farmers to start farmer’s markets in more low-income neighborhoods and food deserts.

The reality of the structural violence of hunger is an unfortunate reality for millions of people in the U.S. It is not enough to notice the problems, but it becomes a person’s civic responsibility to do what they can to address these issues once they are known. Whether you can donate some canned goods, help to organize a farmer’s market, or write an email to a representative, everyone can do something to help end the structural violence of hunger.