Last Updated on January 26, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 844
Hunger and poverty more generally are recognized as feminist issues, but they are generally seen as primarily affecting women in other countries. The author draws on her own experience of poverty when bringing up her children to illustrate how difficult it is for a hardworking mother from a marginalized background to provide nutritious food for her children and herself in America. She has managed to escape from poverty, but this is not a heartwarming story of triumph over adversity. The author escaped because she was fortunate and had access to education and more generous social support than is now available. Many women do not manage to escape from poverty, and society judges them harshly, as though hunger were a moral failing.
About forty-two million Americans struggle with hunger, and due to the gender bias in wages, more than half of them are women. The author estimates that sixty-six percent of the households that are faced with hunger are headed by single mothers. The help available to these families is very limited and often difficult to access. However, this issue is seldom discussed in mainstream feminism, since middle-class white feminists have not experienced food insecurity themselves and do not see it as an issue.
Hunger has a devastating lifelong impact on those who suffer from it, yet federal programs to address food insecurity include many restrictions designed to combat the very few cases of fraud. Even fraudulent behavior has to be seen in context. While it is easy to condemn the illicit sale of food stamps, people who do so are apt to forget that those who do so may be suffering from the lack of other basic amenities, including equipment to prepare the food. Feminists often adopt a mainstream “respectable” viewpoint, as when they condemn women who engage in sex work or drug dealing out of desperation. Instead, they should be fighting as hard against food insecurity as they do for abortion rights and equal pay.
The author asks why programs to combat obesity have gained so much more prominence and popularity than ones which address hunger. Taxes on soda, for instance, do nothing to tackle the reasons why people on low incomes consume so much soda, reasons which range from its cheapness to the unavailability of clean water in communities such as Flint and Chicago. Other drinks, such as cocoa, may also contain more sugar than soda, making soda taxes an empty political gesture that discriminates against the poorest people.
Communities are working effectively to address the problem of hunger with measures such as food cooperatives and community gardens. However, more government programs are needed to address the issue on a systemic level. These must not make demands on the recipients or make assumptions about them by tying the provision of help to labor or respectability, since such demands will only exacerbate the shame already associated with food insecurity. Many of those who receive food stamps are already open, and many others cannot work because they are minors, elderly or infirm, or caregivers.
Ironically, many of the key workers in the food economy are among those whose own access to food is least stable, including migrant workers who pick crops, and women who prepare and process food. Hunger saps people’s energy and makes them less able to fight effectively for themselves. Feminists must therefore act as advocates for food security as a basic human right.
In this essay, the author uses the example of food insecurity to develop a theme mentioned in her initial essay, “Solidarity is Still for White Women,” that of the connection between basic survival...
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on one hand and the idea of shame and respectability on the other. Since she is addressing the most essential of human (and, indeed, animal) needs, the assumptions that underlie government policy and popular opinion are even more shocking. The idea that marginalized people should have to starve to death because they do not fit the stereotype of a deserving recipient of charity is an abhorrent one, but it is implicit in the way that governments and charities behave when they create barriers to food security.
Kendall’s technique here is first to lay bare the assumptions behind these policies, then to debunk them. The first part of this process often brings her more than halfway to her goal, since no one who insists that the recipients of charity should be model citizens ever states explicitly that poor people are too stupid to understand nutrition, or that sex workers do not deserve to eat. Having exposed these prejudices, Kendall then points out that the person who lives on potato chips and soda may not have access to fresh, nutritious food or the capacity to store and prepare it. The sex worker may well have been driven into this form of employment by hunger in the first place. Such observations reinforce the author’s point that mainstream feminism’s focus on respectability detracts from solidarity and that nonjudgmental “hood feminism” is needed to address hunger and other basic issues of survival for marginalized groups.