It ain’t necessarily so 3.

Poverty-induced hunger used to be a grave problem in America.  Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States (1962) documented hunger among America’s large population of poor people, as well as many other ills.  One response appeared in the Food Stamp Act (1964).  Over the last fifty year, this program has greatly reduced hunger among poor Americans.  Today, less than 1 percent of households worry about having enough to eat or go without adequate food on a daily basis.  It is a remarkable success story about government’s ability to solve problems.

However, bureaucracies and advocacy groups foster mission-creep.  Backed by advocacy groups created at an earlier time, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has moved from reducing widespread real hunger to grappling with “food insecurity” and poor diet choices.

The USDA asserts that 14 percent of households are “food insecure” and another 5.6 percent had “very low food security.”  Not so fast, say critics.  It has been demonstrated for several decades now that average intakes of nutrients are similar for children living in poverty and children not living in poverty, and between black and white.[1]   The real problem is obesity, not “food insecurity.”  Currently, 38 percent of all Americans are obese, 42 percent of Hispanic-Americans, and 48 percent of African-Americans are obese.[2]

Similarly, “food desert” became a term much in vogue five years ago.[3]  According to the USDA, in urban areas it is a place where at least 33 percent of the population lives at least a mile from a supermarket and at least 20 percent live below the poverty line.  In rural areas, the distance to qualify is ten miles.  This isn’t just a convenience issue in the eyes of the Obama Administration.  It is also a health issue.  Lack of access to fresh foods drives people to rely on processed foods and fast foods.  A steady diet of Big Macs and soda leads to obesity, with a host of medical complications.

Not so fast, say critics.  First of all, 93 percent of the people who live in these supposed “food deserts” have access to a car.  In addition, in cities there is public transportation.  Saying a grocery store is a mile or more away is meaningless.

Second, there are five fast-food outlets for every supermarket for a reason.  That reason is market demand.  Many people prefer fast foods and processed foods to fresh foods even when they have a choice.  Fast foods cost less than do fresh foods.  Fast foods are full of fat, salt, and sugar, so they taste better than do fresh foods.  Fast foods and a lot of the stuff sold in convenience stores don’t require any higher-order cooking skills than the ability to work a microwave.

Well, is there a way to stop people from doing what they want, when what they want is bad for them?  It’s difficult.  In 2010, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to have soda dropped from the “foods” eligible for purchase with food stamps.  Advocay groups and minority communities pushed back.  The USDA rejected Bloomberg’s idea.  Los Angeles gave it a try by using zoning laws to restrict the number of fast-food outlets in poorer parts of the city.  The question is whether the restrictions have just displaced fast-food consumers from their home “food desert” to some other area where no such restriction apply or if they have just led to longer lines at existing fast-food outlets.

Sometimes solving one problem can lead to other problems, even imaginary ones.

[1] Robert Paarlberg, “Obesity: The New Hunger,” WSJ, 11 May 2016.

[2] Paarlberg, “Obesity.”

[3] “America’s ‘food deserts’,” The Week, 19-26 August 2011, p. 11.

Miss Celany 2015.

The US Navy has spent a lot of money developing a spy-fish. It’s five feet long, weighs a hundred pounds, looks like a blue-fin tuna, and swims. It’s loaded with all sorts of intelligence gear.[1] Now all we have to wait for one of them to end up in some fishing boat’s trawl net. There’s a funny movie in this.

Back in 1977, 56 percent of people aged 18 to 29 said that they had tried marijuana. In 2013, 36 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 said that they had tried marijuana. So, in a sense, it’s a generational thing. You wouldn’t understand. A 2014 academic study concluded that 76 percent of the marijuana consumers in the U.S. were people who never went to college or never finished, while about 17 percent of consumers were college graduates.[2] Whoa, dude.

In Summer 2007, almost 40 percent of births were to un-wed mothers. This was the highest level ever recorded.   The rate had risen among all racial groups. The biggest increases were among women in their twenties.[3] Then, between 2010 and early 2015, abortion rates in the US fell by 12 percent in both “red” and in ‘blue” states.[4] Fewer unwanted pregnancies or more children? Well, from 2010 to 2012 alone, the teen birth-rate dropped by 6 percent.[5] So, it looks like fewer unwanted pregnancies. Condoms are a dollar each at the CVS.   If it hasn’t been burned down or you have a thing about “taking a shower in a raincoat.”

Americans have gotten a lot bigger over recent decades. In the early 1960s the average man weighed 166.3 pounds; today the average man weighs 195.5 pounds. American women have kept pace, with the average woman now clocking in at 166.2 pounds. As a result of the increased size of real dummies, crash-test dummies have had to be scaled-up as well. Current dummies are based on the average weight of Americans back in the Sixties. One recently-developed prototype is based on a person who weighs 273 pounds.[6] How is this public opinion, you ask? Well, public opinion polling is about discovering beliefs. Apparently, a lot of Americans “believe I’ll have another helping.”

People have begun to complain that “radiation from cellphones, Wifi systems or smart meters causes them to suffer dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness or heart palpitations.”[7] We are seeing the rise of “Electrosensitive people” and of “Electro-Americans.” (Kind of like John Boehner being the spokesman for “Orange Americans.” Can learning accommodations be far behind?

Back in 2013, Former President-in-Exile Al Gore was reported to be worth $300 million. That put him ahead of Never-Was-President Mitt Romney, who was reported to be worth between $190 and $260 million.[8] One of the chief criticisms made of Romney by Democrats was that his work at Bain Capital often led to job losses. I haven’t found any overall total for these job losses. One story on just four companies put the total at about 6,000 jobs lost.[9] As an environmental activist, Al Gore opposes burning coal. There are about 174,000 working-class jobs in the coal-mining industry.[10]

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 26 December 2014, p. 20.

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 27 March 2015, p. 16.

[3] “Noted,” The Week, 20 July 2007, p. 18.

[4] “Noted,” The Week, 19 June 2015, p. 14.

[5] “Noted,” The Week, 27 September 2013, p. 16.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 26 June 2015, p. 14; “Noted,” The Week, 14 November 2014, p. 18.

[7] NYT, 31 January 2011, p. A12.

[8] “Noted,” The Week, 8 February 2013, p. 18.