By ANDY BARNS
Hunger and lack of access to nutritious food is a problem for many U.S. working families, employed and unemployed. According to 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 17.4 million households had experienced hunger at some point during the year , and 21 million poor children need assistance in affording school lunches during the year. Nearly half (47%) of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients are under the age of 18.
Similar data from 2018  suggests that upwards of 51% of households had at least a year of “food insecurity” over a five-year period. The USDA defines both “low food insecurity” and “very low food security” as different levels of insecurity that poor families can experience . At the worst, 6% of households experienced a full five years of food insecurity of either type—the equivalent of approximately 19 million people.
The problem of food insecurity has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many millions unemployed and unable to work, millions of working families who had problems affording food now have much worse problems. Millions more American workers will likely have days, weeks, or months of food insecurity ahead, without drastic measures to reduce the problem. For example, in New York, 25 million visits were made to food banks in 2019, and now many of the older volunteers at those sites are by necessity staying home due to the virus . With rising unemployment now becoming a problem, the challenge of feeding all will only grow.
Indeed, much of the anger behind the “reopen the economy” protests can be traced to very legitimate concerns over the need of families to afford nutrition. Donald Trump and other capitalists have also demanded a premature opening of the economy (against health experts warnings, and despite 90,000 dead from the virus).
But we should absolutely not forget that it was Trump’s administration that cut food-stamp (SNAP) benefits to over 700,000 working-class people in 2019 . This is a part of a wider set of “reforms” that Republicans have pursued on the behest on conservative sections of the capitalist class, to reduce government spending at the cost of working-class nutrition . Keep in mind the U.S. wastes $750 billion annually in terrorizing the globe with its imperialist military operations. Any justification for cutting food stamps is hollow; “affordability” is not a factor.
Food insecurity in the United States, as well as for the whole human race, is not a new phenomenon. Hunger has been a pretty consistent element of human life since the dawn of agriculture—and before. Unlike past eras of human history, though, humans now have access to the raw data to track the spread of hunger, and also the immense productive capacity to mass-produce food. The Earth makes enough food to feed 10 billion humans . So why does hunger still exist in the United States today, let alone the whole world?
In a word: capitalism. In more words: capitalist production has the historical advantage of increasing the raw output of farms, since food, as everything, is treated as a commodity under capitalism, resulting in production for mass amounts of food, and re-investment in food production by the largest monopolies into further mass production. But as a commodity, food is made and distributed for profits rather than for the nutritional needs of humans. As a result, much food simply wasted (since it cannot be sold for profit before spoiling). Furthermore, a great deal of food production is funneled into types of products that are easy for mass sale but not necessarily nutritious (think convenience-store food).
Of course, as a commodity, if one cannot afford food, one starves. Thus, it should be clear that the structural inequities of capitalism are the primary cause of food insecurity in the U.S. and the world—not scarcity. Policies that are particularly voiced by the Republican faction of the capitalist class, in its relentless struggle to rob poor working families of the means to feed themselves (by cutting food stamps) for meager savings (pennies compared to the trillions of dollars collectively owned by that class), should be unforgivable. Sensible people should ignore pleas by scoundrels about “expenses.” In order to end hunger, we must demand a halt to military spending, along with taxing the rich and the profits of the highest earning corporations.
In the short term, reducing hunger caused by unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and in general, would be aided by an expansion, not a retraction, of SNAP benefits. Higher benefits should be available to all who need to augment their ability to obtain food. And in this time of quarantine, the benefits should be applicable to take-out, home-delivery, and pre-prepared food.
Moreover, society must make sure that everyone is supplied with nutritious food—delivered to homes for free, if necessary. Neighborhood committees can help with distribution. Small businesses, such as restaurants, must be given adequate funding and resources to aid in feeding everyone.
Issues concerning farm production, the environment, and equitable working conditions for agricultural workers are closely linked to that of hunger. Migrant farm workers must be granted full union organizing rights, union pay, and citizenship (with all attendant rights). Efficient distribution of food from the farm to the consumer also requires an expansion of sustainable and locally based farming. This would entail the improvement of the soil and water, and healthful management of livestock, according to the best ecological practices.
As longer-term goals, socialists demand nationalization of the land and wiping out the debts of small farmers; control of farms by the farm workers and small farmers; workers’ control of the grocery stores, fast-food chains, supply lines, etc. A government managed by working-class people, for working-class people, would be the only kind of government able to ensure that production and distribution of food to all persons is equitable and ecologically sustainable.
Food should not be a commodity, and market anarchy should not dictate whether or not people eat. Hunger, given modern means, is inexcusable politically, morally, and scientifically. The working class can no longer tolerate this odious robbery of the means of life by the ruling class. In the long term, a complete wiping out of world hunger can only be accomplished with planned economies on the international level, not market anarchy predicated on capitalist profits. Ultimately, working people must look toward replacing the capitalist system in its entirety through a working-class-led revolution that can take society on the road to socialism.