My father — who turned 89 this past Sunday, bless him — grew up what’s now called “food insecure.” Like many immigrants, the Bittman family ate whatever they could get their hands on. This served them well when dinner was a boiled potato with sour cream.
It served them less well after World War II, when every male in the family was making $60 a week or more, which wasn’t bad when $60 paid the rent. Soon thereafter, my paternal grandparents and their sons — my father had three brothers — were way overweight, even obese. All developed diabetes and heart disease. My father is the only survivor. Both those grandparents and two of my three uncles were dead by the time they were the (tender) age I am now.
Of the two edges of the sword of America’s malnutrition — hunger and obesity — the latter is by far the more prevalent and deadly. In New York City perhaps 2 percent of children have “very low food security,” which might mean vitamin deficiencies, a day without food, a loss of weight, a month of being hungry. Meanwhile, 40 percent of New York’s public school students are overweight or obese, and 2,000 New Yorkers die each year from obesity or overweight-related conditions. All of those deaths are preventable. No one should belittle even a little hunger, but this why-do-we-even-have-to-talk-about-it comparison of it and obesity is germane because the city’s Health Department recently suspended expansion of the Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) program, which serves free breakfast in the classrooms of 381 of 1,750 public schools. The program is ostensibly meant to ensure that hungry kids start the day with something to eat.