You Cannot Eat a House: The Hunger Secrets in Middle Class

by Alexandria Helsel Senior Nutrition Student, The Pennsylvania State University

Answering the calls of grumbling tummies, my brothers and I raced home in a suburban neighborhood to find our custom cabinets empty except for a few cobwebs. While our home reflected the same outside beauty of the other homes on the street, the inside held the hunger secrets of middle class. Our house was stripped down to a skeleton. After a job layoff, my parents had to sell the electronics and furniture to meet the mortgage payments.

The Great Recession of 2009 ripped my life and family apart. Overnight we went from eating fresh nourishing foods, to boxes of microwavable rice and expired canned goods from the discount stores. My parents sacrificed their meals so my brothers and I could eat. Neighbors gave us hot meals to help us get through the week. My parents hid our hunger secret so well, it took years to identify myself as someone who was once food insecure.

The middle class is not immune to hunger. Since 2007, hunger in the suburbia America has been growing more rapidly than in cities. Yet, according to a nationwide survey, Americans believe hunger is an urban issue – even though more poor people live in suburbs than in cities. Unfortunately, food insecure families tend to hide their struggle from family, friends and neighbors. Like many families, pride consumed my parents and kept them from seeking financial help.

The persistent public misunderstanding of hunger makes it difficult to help struggling suburban families, like mine. With 41.2 million Americans (12.9 million children) scraping to find their next meal, the perception of hunger is dangerous. Hunger has no age, no race and no gender. Hunger can look like anyone at any time and is often the result of a temporary crisis. Situational poverty worms its way into the lives of anyone who falls victim to the loss of a job, divorce, death in the family, medical injury or a natural disaster.

Hunger is a solvable problem. The resources and tools to end hunger in the United States work when properly funded. Some of the programs include the National School Meal Programs, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP- formally known as food stamps).

For many people, hunger is a constant reminder of the shame and lack of power over food choices that accompany food insecurity. To win the war on hunger, we must remove the shame associated with food assistance programs and understand that hunger in America is an invisible epidemic attacking new neighborhoods leaving many children struggling to eat and do well in school. Selling our house and belongings took time. As hungry children of the middle class, we could not eat our big beautiful house.

Alexandria Helsel is a senior Nutrition Science major at the Pennsylvania State University. Experiencing food insecurity herself, she uses her voice to fight hunger in the United States.

Contributing Author- Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RDN, FAND. Clancy is a Registered Dietitian, TEDx speaker and Food Justice Advocate with over 20 years of experience challenging the way poverty is approached in the United States. Click here to learn more about her.