Very Low Food Security

Ever on the lookout, your middlingly-intrepid scribe has uncovered another amazing achievement in euphemism.

Now I’m not saying we don’t need access to the occasional euphemism–especially if you’re a parent–but like everything else in life, there are limits.

We are all familiar with euphemisms for death, sex, and all those fun ones for excrement (and sex). And of course these days the U.S. Department of Defence, once the Department of War, spawns a new military euphemism everyday…oh let me see: smart bombs, collateral damage, safe bunkers, hard targets, hit ratios, surgical strikes, preemptive strike, friendly fire…stop me if you’ve heard these before. Yup, war is essentially bloodless.

Well, to the academy of deflection, in the category of poverty, I mean, low-income status, add: "very low food security."

Central Park, New York, May 2003
homeless new york

The U.S. government has proclaimed that Americans will never be hungry again. But they may experience "very low food security," or, "multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake."

Hunger has hit the skids as an acceptable, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a scientifically accurate term. You see the term hunger isn’t "conceptually and operationally sound." It is instead "a consequence of food insecurity."

So gone are the embarrassing yearly reports that used the word ’hunger’ to describe those who can least afford to put food on the table. Which the Committee on National Statistics puts at a startling 11 percent of American households. Canadian stats are around 6 percent (Fraser Institute).

Of course when it comes to poverty, numbers are flexible things. But then, one percent is too much. And anything that serves to hide a problem that real people are facing does us all a huge disservice.

Euphemism in this context does exactly that. It subtly eases the friction we need to feel over hungry people. It anesthetizes our perception and allows us to turn away.

And the last thing we need is more excuses and ways to become less human, less merciful. Sorry, I mean the last thing we need is more avenues to a sumptuary engagement of personhood.

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  1. I was reminded by my son that it’s Thanksgiving south of the border today, and couldn’t help but think that euphemism, which does work well to soften embarrassing truths, is an apt thing to think about in relation to the holiday. The focus-on-the-family, so-Christian tradition of Thanksgiving in the West is as much a softening of truth as “low food security” is. It was originally celebrated by the Pilgrims who survived a harsh new world, true. But that survival was in large part due to the help of the friendly Wampanoag Indians, and it is also true that shortly after that, in the early 1600s, Thanksgiving was proclaimed as celebration of the successful massacre of those same Indians, men, women and children. Isn’t the real word for that genocide?

  2. Then there’s this, from this morning’s paper (which I’ve just now had a look at): the death toll of Iraqi civilians is an average of 120 per day now, the October toll was 3,709. Two million have fled their homes (and most of them, the country). Is that not genocide also?

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