Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States in the early months of 2020, national media outlets have featured photos of lines of cars outside food banks in cities across the country. Such images serve as a shocking reminder that, yes, hunger exists in America. In this piece, I highlight how drastic changes in American food programs in the 1970s shaped contemporary food welfare policies. Enacting a politics of austerity, presidents and politicians began to place limits around food welfare spending within government, opening the door for a more far-reaching politics of disentitlement in the 1980s. These changes created lasting legacies that impact our relationship to hunger in America today, including normalizing the reliance of millions of Americans on…

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There is perhaps no more universally heart-rending image than that of a hungry child. Depictions of issues as disparate as urban poverty, environmental catastrophe, and an inadequate education system invoke the hungry child as a shorthand for injustice and absolute wrongness. Such images suggest that hunger is a universal experience – all people hunger the same, and hunger itself is a sensation that everyone can equally imagine and experience. In this post, I want to historicize and contextualize this idea of the naturalness, simplicity, and the apoliticality of hunger. While “feeding the hungry” might seem like a viable moral imperative, this approach toward resolving hunger is itself a product of a specific political and economic moment; conceptualizing hunger as apolitical,…

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While the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program in which low-income men constructed trails and lodges in parks, built public roads, and otherwise improved the American environment, lasted just under a decade, it has remained an incredibly popular agency in American consciousness. Organizations push its memory, the National Park Service celebrates its past, and Americans write a surprising number of editorials about how we should revive the program. This is an unusual amount of love for a social welfare program, most of which are loathed and stigmatized in the U.S. Why are so many welfare programs villainized, even when they include a work component, while the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) invokes such pride and nostalgia? There are several reasons…

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Hunger strikes are a political device. Since the early 20th century, they have frequently provoked debate on the individual’s right to self-determination and the limits of the state’s duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and ensure their survival. When we read present day news reports on hunger strikes, the suffering body is in the focus of camera lenses and at the center of our imaginations. Unsurprisingly, questions on normative body ideals, fitness, and food seem to be rather absent. But in the Progressive Era (~ 1890s-1920s), they arguably played a vital, maybe even a formative role in establishing hunger strikes as a form of protest. Back then, British and American activists for women’s suffrage not only drew public…

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It is a contradiction to work for social justice and perpetuate fatphobia at the same time. This should be obvious, and yet many people with strong commitments to social justice often use rhetoric that entrenches the oppression of fat people. A popular, but pernicious, set of fatphobic assertions takes the form of what some scholars refer to as the “foodscape argument.” On its surface, the foodscape argument (which is also known as the “obesogenic environment” thesis, or the “environmental” theory of fatness) seems progressive. The theory postulates that western industrial societies are experiencing an “epidemic” of “obesity,” which is driven in large part by economic inequality. According to the foodscape argument, low-income people lack access to nutritious foods and are…

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