All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America by Joel Berg – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

All You Can EatWe have long thought of America as the most bounteous of nations . . . [t]hat hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable. More is at stake here than the health and well being of [millions of] American children. . . . Something like the very honor of American democracy is involved.
President Richard Nixon, May 6, 1969, Special Message to Congress Recommending a Program to End Hunger in America

I thus came back to the same conclusion I reach every day: while hunger anywhere on the planet is horrid and preventable, having it in America is truly unforgivable.
Joel Berg, All You Can Eat


As I have often shared on this blog, I present business book synopses at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and for a number of companies/organizations; and I also present books on social justice and poverty issues for the Urban Engagement Book Club sponsored by CitySquare. For each of these two gatherings, I present a synopsis of one new book (sometimes, just new to me) each month.

For the October Urban Engagement Book Club, I presented my synopsis of All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America by Joel Berg. Though this book was published in 2008, the overall premise of the book is still true – there are “hungry” people in America.

Joel Berg has been at this issue for a long time. Here is some info about Mr. Berg:

Joel Berg is Executive Director of the New York City Coalition against Hunger (NYCCAH). He served for eight years under the Clinton administration in senior executive service positions in the us department of agriculture (USDA), creating a number of high-profile initiatives that fought hunger and implemented national service projects across the country.

As usual, I started my synopsis with this section: Why is this book worth our time?

#1 – We need to be reminded that the plight of the “hungry” is real – even real in America.
#2 – This book reminds us that a comprehensive approach is needed, and has not been adopted; an approach that really could make a difference.
#3 – Compassion demands that we pay attention to this very real human struggle.

In the book, Mr. Berg describes the new vocabulary in use… These days, instead of “hunger,” we refer to “food insecurity.” From the book:

Today in the United States—because tens of millions of people live below the meager federal poverty line and because tens of millions of others hover just above it—35.5 million Americans, including 12.6 million children, live in a condition described by the federal government as “food insecurity,” which means their households either suffer from hunger or struggle at the brink of hunger.

And, to define “food insecurity”:

The USDA describes households as food insecure if they are “at times, uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food.”
Then, to make matters more confusing, households that were “food insecure” were originally divided into two subcategories: “food insecure with hunger” and “food insecure without hunger.” In other words, everyone who was “hungry” was also “food insecure,” but not everyone who was “food insecure” was also “hungry,” at least under the official government definition of the word.   
When interpreting food security statistics, it is important to keep in mind that households are classified as having low or very low food security if they experienced the condition at any time during the previous 12 months.

And, yes, there are folks who are the most in need. From the book (remember the 2008 date of the book):

The number of adults and children who suffered from the most severe lack of food—what the Bush administration now calls “very low food security” and what used to be called “hunger”—also increased in that period from 7.7 million to 11.1 million people—a 44 percent increase in just seven years.

And the ripple effects of not having enough food are truly devastating:

Hunger and food insecurity harm low-income Americans at each stage of their lives.
Not only does hunger impair physical growth and health, but it saps energy and makes it impossible to concentrate, thereby compromising performance at school, work, and home. All those factors then fuel feelings of despair and inadequacy.
Pregnant women who are undernourished are more likely to have low birth weight babies. …malnourished mothers are more prone to have children with birth defects.

From All You Can Eat, 2

From All You Can Eat

I’ve included a couple of images from the book – please click on them, and look at them closely. They are truly revealing. (Please excuse my poor picture-taking skills).

And, here are my six lessons and takeaways from the book:

#1 – Denial is very real. We have to put an end to such denial. There are in fact hungry people in America.
#2 – Charity will not solved this problem. It is too big for charity to solve!
#3– The tug-of-war for government resources is unending – and thus, too many of those in need go without the help they need.
#4 – Hunger (food) is one part of an overall problem – poverty; people who need money!
#5 – The hungry themselves will have to more fully “enter the fight.”
#6 – And, remember – it matters who is on office, and what they pay attention to.

From All You Can Eat

From All You Can Eat

This book was a good and sobering reminder about the most basic of human needs – the need for food — unmet for too many right here in our own country (and, yes, in our own area in pockets in and around DFW). It was worth reading.


We meet on the third Thursday of each month, at noon, for the Urban Engagement Book Club, near downtown Dallas at the CitySquare Opportunity Center. You are welcome, and invited, to attend.
CitySquare Opportunity Center
Multi-Purpose Room
1610 S Malcolm X Blvd
Dallas, TX 75226

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