Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who developed sociocultural theory – the idea that everyday interactions within our respective cultures will affect our psychological development. For example, I live in Barre, and something I see often is the degradation of people who receive state assistance by those who don’t. This relates to public perception and how we adopt certain emotions and attitudes towards specific sub-groups within a community. When it comes to hunger and food assistance, is this negative public perception accurate?
The disparaging attitude I describe is part of the local culture. I used to think that way, because others thought that way, too. After coming to realize my foolishness towards the subject, I was ashamed for ever judging people for needing help to afford basic necessities. What some of us go through every day is hard enough without criticism. Worse yet is when the perception doesn’t match the actual profile of those in need:
(Growing Tables Admin, 2013)
Psychologically, people living in hunger are affected in many ways. “In fact, true hunger — or, malnutrition – is a dual body-mind experience that has the same deteriorating effects on every human… Even though we think of hunger as a primarily physical experience, it is important to remember that acute hunger makes learning and concentration difficult at every age.” (Desmond, n.d.) There have been times when my body has told me it needed some kind of sustenance. It is hard not to listen to that kind of message – either focus is lacking or weakness and exhaustion take over.
Hunger and malnutrition are problems for millions of people of all ages, “The effects of hunger on children can be detrimental to their health, well-being, and lifelong success. Children living in food insecure homes are at greater risk for poor health, nutritional deficiencies and obesity/overweight, as well as developmental delays, poor academic achievement, depression, and increased aggressive or hyperactive behavior;” 21%, or 25,400, children in Vermont live in food insecure homes. (Hunger Free Vermont, 2013a)
Food insecurity is the term used to describe people living with limited access to food. In Vermont, this applies to 13% of the state population which is roughly 84,000 people, with almost half of that figure living in conditions of hunger and malnutrition. (Hunger Free Vermont, 2013) This number shows that hunger is a problem in need of attention within the state. Looking at individual counties provides some information on how different areas of Vermont fare compared to one another (i.e. urban versus suburban versus rural).
In Chittenden county, the most populated county in the state, 17,788 people participate in the 3SquaresVT program; Washington county has 8,319 participants, and Essex county has 1,465 participants. (Hunger Free Vermont, 2013b) These numbers account for 11.2%, 14%, and 23.5% of the total populations within each county, respectively. (U.S. Census, 2013) Data from 2012 showed where Vermont fell into comparison with other states in food benefit programs, and it was discovered we are ranked 41st in the nation. Hawaii has the best benefit program, with an average of $213 per person a month, Vermont has an average of $121 a month, and the lowest is Minnesota with $115 a month. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2012)
In a study conducted by McEntee and Aygeman (2009), they refer to the term “food desert” as a place where the price of food is not only costly, but also not readily available, stating, “We support the notion that food deserts are comprised of areas where people experience one or all of the three types of inadequate access. The interplays between geographic, economic, and informational access dictate how people access food…” and “Our results suggest certain areas of the state are at a higher risk of inadequate food access than others.” The following images shows the mean distance of food retailers on the left, and food deserts on the right, where there was a greater than 10 mile distance between stores and homes. Notice Essex county is completely shaded in the darkest hues on both figures. Essex county has the highest percentage of residents on 3SquaresVT benefits.
(McEntee & Aygeman, 2009)
The 3SquaresVT challenge is something a person can partake in at any time of the year, but Hunger Free Vermont really emphasizes that challenge during the week before Thanksgiving, which is when I chose to participate. My food shopping experience was more difficult than I expected to it be. I did not go in with a plan (which was advised), so I spent time thinking about what would make a decent meal that would not only be enough, but that would also last me more than one day. I was able to spend just over $27, which was $9 under the budget amount given for one person in a single week, but I still found myself trying to justify spending more on certain products that I could have gotten for less.
I was not sure what to expect during the challenge, how I would feel, or what I was going to make every day. I found myself more hungry than usual, though I did eat a lot of sandwiches (as I said I would). Reflecting on the week really gave me some insight on what it was like to have a limit on food. I was not able to go to my fridge or cabinets and eat something, and I had to ration my portions so I wouldn’t eat too much at a time. It is a little worrisome to think that people not only live like I did for the week, but a lot of people live in even worse situations. I think what made me feel the worst was the fact that until we are forced to address a problem, we ignore it. Men, women, and children, in my own community, are living in food insecure households.
Desmond, Z. (n.d.) How Hunger Hurts. The 40-Hour Famine. Retrieved 12/04/13 from http://40hrfamine.wordpress.com/how-hunger-hurts/
England, K. (2013, December 05). 3SquaresVT Challenge – My Food Shopping Experience. [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkcSXuDRqhU
Growing Tables Admin. (2013, October 20). Healthy. Sustainable. AFFORDABLE. Fair. (Part III). Growing Tables. [Image]. Retrieved from http://growingtables.blogspot.com/2013/10/healthy-sustainable-affordable-fair_20.html
Hunger Free Vermont. (2013b, October 01). Statistics by County. Retrieved from http://www.hungerfreevt.org/learn/statistics
Hunger Free Vermont. (2013a, October). Vermont Hunger Facts. What is the Issue? Hunger in Vermont. Retrieved from http://www.hungerfreevt.org/images/stories/pdfs/2013_vt_hunger_facts_.pdf
Kaiser Family Foundation. (2012). Average Monthly Food Stamp Benefits Per Person. Retrieved from http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/avg-monthly-food-stamp-benefits/
McEntee, J., Agyeman, J. (2009, January) Towards the development of a GIS method for identifying rural food deserts: Geographic access in Vermont, USA. Applied Geography, Vol. 30, Issue 1, 165-176. [Text & Image]. doi:10.1016/j.apgeog.2009.05.004
United States Census Bureau. (2013, June 27). Vermont. State & County QuickFacts. Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/50000.html
* * *
APA cite this article in text as: (England, 2014)
APA cite this article in References as: England, K. (2014). Hunger, stigma, and truth through experience. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-3f
* * *
Kim England: I am still trying to find myself, and I don’t know if I ever fully will. All I know is I am a work in progress. I have a growing passion for animals and their well-being, stemming from my unconditional love for my wild and crazy pup, Eve. I lead a relatively low-key life at the moment as I focus on my education (whenever I’m not working). I am currently enrolled in STEM Studies at CCV with plans to transfer and pursue a degree in laboratory science.