The United States is a country that is at once overweight and hungry. There are those among us who are overweight and obese. There are those among us who live with food insecurity. There are those among us who are both overweight and food insecure. How can this be?
The paradox is that in many cases, when people are food insecure, they eat diets that are cheap and lack variety. This may often include carbohydrate loaded, low-fiber diets. Fresh fruits and vegetables may be minimal. Lean meat may be scarce. These are often diets with too much sugar, too much salt, and too much fat. Further, food insecurity may very well lead to overeating when food is available due to frustration, anxiety, and/or depression.
Two recent studies tell the tale. The United States Department of Agriculture reported last week that food insecurity -- a.k.a hunger -- is at a 14-year high. Forty-nine million American are food insecure. This is an increase of 13 million. Approximately 506,000 households have children who are facing very low food security. Rising unemployment and rising food prices have caused more people to rely on food stamps, food pantries, and soup kitchens for sustenance.
At the same time, Professor Kenneth E. Thorpe of Emory University has completed a study from which he concludes that if current trends continue, 43 percent of American adults will be obese by the year 2018. Obesity leads to other chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Thus, the health-care costs could be around $344 billion. The most important thing we can do as a nation to get health-care costs under control is to lose weight.
However, in my opinion, the paradox of an overfed and hungry nation has ethical and spiritual aspects that exist beyond what the numbers tell us. Food is a commodity sold to us night and day. It is sold to us as a way to have a good time with family and friends. It is sold to us as a way to show our love. Large potions at cheap prices are sold to us as a value. While we are buying the social benefits of this or that food commodity, we are left in a hungry spiritual place that blinds us to the reality that our personal social circle is incomplete and inadequate as long as our neighbor is hungry. Moreover, when we eat out of boredom or stress, we are eating from within our own self absorption.
This does is not to say that all heavy people are selfish and unhealthy. It is not to say that all thin people are selfless and physically fit. It is to say that what, when, why, and with whom we eat is a personal decision with communal consequences -- economic, moral, and spiritual.
There is a time for feasting and a time for fasting. Thanksgiving is a traditional time for feasting. When we sit down this Thursday, whether we are with family and friends or whether we are alone, we ought to thank God for God's blessings toward us and say a prayer for those who are not so richly blessed.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her PhD in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.