As a political matter, neither Republicans nor Democrats have shed much light on the crisis of rising food costs and food insecurity. The conversation has often been muted by broader debates about widening income inequality, a point that President Barack Obama, to his credit, and progressive leaders highlighted during the 2012 election campaign. But as Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent budget proposal reveals, Republicans are scarcely concerned about inequality or food insecurity. Ryan curiously protects the wealthiest and corporations from increased tax liabilities — while achieving a dubiously “balanced budget” by cutting social-safety programs like food stamps.
What is most disturbing for House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders is the fact that six out of the seven states that exhibited the most statistically high food insecurity rates between 2009 and 2011 were red states — Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia. The Tar Heel State of North Carolina (also among the six) voted narrowly for Mitt Romney, while Florida awarded its 29 delegates to the president. Each of these states represent local economies heavily dependent on agriculture revenues.
Nonetheless, the sequestration cuts and deeper proposed cuts to discretionary spending stand to threaten U.S. food security and rising food costs.
One Republican senator, John Hoeven of North Dakota, hasn’t been afraid to address the issue. In an op-ed last year for the Hill, Hoeven argued the benefits of passing the Farm Bill — a measure that became a casualty of the GOP obstinacy that has persisted throughout Obama’s presidency. Hoeven wrote, “Food security is not a regional or a partisan issue.” He went on to address the effects of climate violatity, writing, “If you do not have a crop to harvest, high prices do not do you any good — almost a quarter of the acres in my state this year could not be planted due to weather.”
It is this sensible approach to discussing the issue of food insecurity in America and the myriad and complicated reasons for higher food prices that is necessary. Only then can the underlying issues of racial disparities in poverty and income equality be fleshed out in such a way that informs, educates and ultimately resolves. Until that time, far too many children and families — black, brown and white alike — will go hungry in the world’s richest, most prosperous democracy.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on AlJazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.