National Geographic recently sent three photographers to explore hunger in the United States. It was an effort to give a face to a very troubling statistic: Even today, one-sixth of Americans do not have enough food to eat. Fifty million people in this country are "food insecure" -- having to make daily trade-offs among paying for food, housing or medical care -- and 17 million of them skip at least one meal a day to get by. When choosing what to eat, many of these individuals must make choices between lesser quantities of higher-quality food and larger quantities of less-nutritious processed foods, the consumption of which often leads to expensive health problems down the road.
This is an extremely serious, but not easily visible, social problem. Nor does the challenge it poses become any easier when poorly designed public-assistance programs continue to count the sauce on a pizza as a vegetable. The deficiencies caused by hunger increase the likelihood that a child will drop out of school, lowering her lifetime earning potential. In 2010 alone, food insecurity cost America $167.5 billion, a figure that includes lost economic productivity, avoidable health-care expenses and social-services programs.