Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Food Studies: The Invisibility of Modern Hunger

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Appetite For a Change page and our Politics and Democracy page.
A couple pulls into a grocery store parking lot at exactly midnight on the first of the month. They are well-dressed and middle-class looking, but their faces are tense. The woman takes out her cell phone and dials a hotline that will report, in an automated voice, the total in their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) account. When they hear the voice say, "Your balance is 691 dollars and zero cents," a wave of relief washes across their faces. They can now go into the store to buy groceries. The young man describes how he's feeling for the camera as he lets out what he says is "a great big aaah."

This was a scene from a recent episode of Rock Center with Brian Williams, which featured seemingly normal, middle-class food assistance users who often find themselves waiting outside of the grocery store at midnight on the first of the month. These families shop in the middle of the night -- we are told -- because fridges are empty, and a less-crowded store allows them to shop without persecution. A Walmart executive then tells us they have had to add extra staff on the first of the month to accommodate the increase in families using their benefits.

I caught this episode of Rock Center by accident the other night, but it just happened to highlight an important paradox I've been thinking a lot about lately. More people are using public benefits than ever before (according to the show, the number of people using EBT to feed their families has gone up nearly 37 percent in the last two years, to nearly 46 million people!) and yet there has been no correlating increase in EBT visibility.