Breitbart Author Says Food-Insecure Are ‘Dodgy Data’ from the Left
Breitbart author Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), wrote an article criticizing families who are food insecure, and the nonprofit organizations who attempt to help them. Ruse’s article is a promotional excerpt from his book, Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data. In it, he complains that USDA data on hunger are tracking personal food ‘security’ and not true hunger.
Ruse and C-FAM think hunger is a hoax
Austin Ruse has a colorful history. C-FAM is well known for its stance against alternative lifestyles and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2014, Ruse stated on air that the “hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities … should all be taken out and shot.” As a result, Ruse was removed as a commentator from American Family Radio. He engaged in frequent flame wars on Twitter, and after the fallout from his 2014 comments, he deactivated his Twitter account. He has since reactivated it and is present on Twitter as @AustinRuse.
In a nutshell, Ruse’s article claims that there is a massive “anti-hunger lobby” working “feverishly to convince Americans to kick in yet more private donations.” His theory is that an amorphous food lobby works to both affect and distort USDA poverty and hunger numbers. His conclusion is that this “anti-hunger lobby” is part of a “vast complex of … federal bureaucrats making a comfortable living off poverty in America.”
· Hungry people should stop buying cigarettes.
· They should stop consuming fast food and sodas.
· They should buy more rice.
· Learn to cook.
· Stop “trotting out” kids as being food insecure.
· Stop wasting their money and running out of funds before the end of the month.
The realities of dealing with hunger
Wow, so much to unpack here. As the founder of a new gleaning organization myself (GleanMe.org), and someone trying to work closely with local food banks and hunger missions, I can assure you that many people living in poverty don’t know how to cook with fresh ingredients, or even how to shop for them. Many have had no education in nutrition. Some live in urban deserts where fresh produce is hard to obtain. Offering cooking and nutrition classes is one of the solutions that small organizations like mine would like to offer, but we are handicapped by a lack of volunteers, skills, money and time.
Ruse denies that children are more at risk, because there are fewer children than adults classified as hungry. He blithely overlooks the fact that children can’t get a job and support themselves — therefore they actually are far more at risk than adults. Also, the numbers of hungry children are vastly under-reported, as anyone who works with a program like Seattle’s Homeless Backpacks can tell you. Many of these kids hoard their packed lunches to eat later or share with siblings. Some have been known to hoard food for days, in fear of future hunger.
Food distribution as conspiracy theory
According to Ruse, food organizations “also spend some of their lucre on food pantries and food banks, of which there are something like thirty thousand in this country,” but “two-thirds say they don’t have access to them.”
If the word “lucre” sounds familiar, it’s because “filthy lucre” is a common Biblical reference — a translation from Greek that refers to goods gained through greed or covetousness. Ruse is implying that this mysterious lobby dribbles a tiny portion of their fundraising out to food banks as a front for the imaginary empire.
In many cases it may be true that not enough people have access to food resources, but one reason is certainly that most large food banks, like Feeding America and its affiliates, only operate in urban areas, which leaves rural communities with no hunger assistance other than what is provided by tiny local food banks and church-supported missions. Food Lifeline, a Feeding America affiliate based in Seattle, designates only $27,000 of its $10 million dollar budget and $75 million in food donations to rural food deliveries.
I drilled down into Food Lifeline’s budget and found that they do indeed have paid full time staff. But if you study the budget, these people are not being paid huge amounts of money. And a lot of the staff are part-time or volunteers. Efforts like these require experienced long-haul truckers, delivery drivers, forklift-certified warehouse staff, packers and onsite food bank staff. These are hard-working people trying to make a difference in their community. Most large food banks are required by state nonprofit laws to post their financial statements online, so they’re pretty transparent.
“A whole day without eating”
Ruse’s math also equates people who report going hungry for at least one day with people who might have gone hungry for only one day. What the heck? Where’s his vaunted science in that logic? Ruse refers sarcastically to “the one child in a thousand who spent a whole day without eating” as being emblematic of the whole childhood hunger problem.
Ruse argues with USDA numbers in his article, while offering no data or science to refute the data, only his own brand of weird and arrogant illogic. It seems to me that Ruse’s intimacy with “fake science” exists only in his own private and carefully constructed mind bubble.
Does Ruse really speak for Catholics?
Ironically, as the leader of C-FAM, Ruse seems unaware that the Catholic Church is one of the oldest and largest supporters of hunger outreach. The first food bank in the world was created by St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix, Arizona. Catholic and Protestant churches are the largest donors of money, time, and energy to food banks; many churches host, supply and staff their own food pantries and soup kitchens.
Insulting the conservatives who actually feed the hungry
In my home county in Washington State, we have a 17.1% unemployment rate. Sometimes even the farmers who grow the food can barely support their families. Our once robust dairy industry has been dying since the Dairy Security Act was forced out of the 2012 Farm Bill — thanks to Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who claimed that dairy farmers were “bilking” consumers. Our county is largely agricultural, so we also have a migrant population.
Food banks, soup kitchens and church-supported hunger missions are absolutely critical in both urban and rural environments. Urban areas have more people to feed, and rural areas have less access to food distribution. Either way, it’s a struggle.
Much of the food that is donated and distributed is in the form of processed, canned and boxed food — and most of these products are high in sugar, salt and carbohydrates. Gleaning organizations step in to harvest field crops and fruit trees and donate desperately needed fresh produce.
I doubt that Mr. Ruse even knows what a gleaning organization is. It is painfully apparent to me that he has never once offered to glean a field or work in a soup kitchen. He hasn’t delivered backpacks of food to schools. He hasn’t met these people or heard their stories.
What offends me the most about all this is that he’s actually insulting the very people he claims to represent — Catholics, Christians, churchgoers and conservatives. The farmers who donate a portion of their field, or who donate sides of beef and pork, hundreds of dozens of eggs — these people are diehard conservatives, even when they’ve been abandoned and forgotten by their Republican leaders. Gleaners typically live in rural areas and are either directly involved in or associated with agriculture. The granges and churches that power those 30,000 food banks with unpaid volunteers and donations of food may include members that are liberal and conservative, moderate and independent. But they are not wholesale “lefties” and they are most certainly all deserving of our respect.