Saturday, May 19, 2007

Congress Goes Hungry

In our so-sophisticated society, it would be easy to mock what four members of the House are doing this week: trying not to starve on what the government currently provides 26 million poor people in our country.

Representatives James McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tim Ryan (D-OH) are living on an average food stamp budget--$3 a day--from May 15th to the 21st to show themselves and voters what it really means to be hungry in America today.

They are finding out what it’s like to live on bread, rice and canned tuna, choose between coffee and calories, have a banana for breakfast, scramble an egg so stretched with water that your child tells you it "looks like barf" and, above all, feel tired most of the time. (See their blogs.)

Stunt? Gimmick? Political show-boating? Maybe, but they are trying to drum up support for legislation to add $4 billion to the $33 billion food stamp budget for the coming year, a fraction of what it costs to fight the war in Iraq.

Their effort recalls what happened in the early 1960s when Michael Harrington wrote “The Other America,” a book that prompted President Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson to launch the War on Poverty, in which he described why the poor have become invisible:

“(T)he very development of the American city has removed poverty from the living, emotional experience of millions upon millions of middle-class Americans. Living out in the suburbs it is easy to assume that ours is, indeed, an affluent society.”

If politicians miss a few meals to make them visible, we’ll all be the healthier for it.

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