Not-So-Sweet Charity

The 2013 Farm Bill proposes to cut $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. While the $5-20 monthly reduction per person may seem modest, it would force millions of Americans to turn to charitable food donations such as food banks—which may do more harm than good.

Diverting surplus food to the hungry appears to address both issues of hunger and food waste, but these programs provide unstable, temporary fixes. In their 1999 article in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, scholars Valerie Tarasuk and George Beaton suggest that charitable food sources provide unstable access to food and only short-term help. Sociologist Janet Poppendieck goes even further in her 1998 book Sweet Charity? by pointing out that charitable food sources actually perpetuate poverty and hunger.

Instead of alleviating hunger, by lessening the pressure on governments to address deprivation, these charity sources may weaken much-needed institutional support for food-vulnerable populations.