A regular right-leaning listener called into a left-leaning show the other day suggesting people needing food support should grow their own crops on what he said was an abundance of land in this country. He recalled growing up in the 1930s and family making it through The Great Depression by living off what they grew in Chicago. I respect this caller because he’s my elder, he’s brave to call a left-leaning show and he is sincere, so he helps me understand the other political side. So I tried to see his point of view, which is people in need should be more resourceful and do for themselves, rather than seek government help. I tried seeing how underprivileged folks lived in cities in the 1930s and whether going back is a solution.
I have no doubt his and other families made it through The Depression with the help of food they grew those seventy years ago. This was thirty years before a food support program so hunger was a real fear for people during The Depression. And if all poor people in the 1930s who lived in cities could grow enough of their own food to live and if dozens of other factors were similar for today’s under-privileged, his suggestion might have some merit; not much but some. But merely growing produce, even when possible, doesn’t eliminate hunger for everyone and doesn’t mitigate other struggles and hardships for the working poor, let alone for the elderly and disabled. Furthermore, the poor in today’s America have challenges those in the 1930s didn’t face because of changes in technology, laws, society, population, trade, tariffs, manufacturing, wealth disparities, the global economy and dozens of other factors.
In many ways, it’s harder today because when FDR became president, he instituted massive infrastructure programs to employ millions to build bridges, roads and dams. Those efforts and a booming manufacturing industry helped lift the poor and created our middle class. President Johnson advanced efforts with programs of the Great Society. Then Reagan eliminated most of Johnson’s programs because he said they worked so well. So the opportunities for advancement out of poverty like affordable college education, good blue-collar manufacturing jobs and accessible health care have stagnated social advancement for the vast majority of us 99%, leaving most worse off than our parents.
Industry was still relatively new in the 1930s and most jobs for the poor and working class were in city factories within walking distance, as mass transit was limited. Even finding a job meant asking a friend or walking in and asking an employer for a job, not searching on the Internet. Today a vast majority of good paying manufacturing jobs are gone and inner cities are barren areas for mass employment, the ripple of which are fractured lives and fractured families. Today low-income, inner-city dwellers often commute long distances to wealthy, suburban communities and many work more than one job. The days of one parent remaining home are gone and working parents have limited time at home, making it harder to cook from scratch, let alone tend a garden for food. Further, there isn’t as much free and open land and there are more legal restrictions for folks to plant crops. Community gardens exist but are rare. It is also impossible to let children play safely outside unsupervised, let alone tend a garden down the street. So I can’t agree with the right-wing man that food security can be rectified by a garden. I am not diminishing the nutritional benefits of a garden but it isn’t enough to compensate for an estimated 20% of American children on food support.
I understand that conservatives do not believe in a social safety net. They want to dismantle Social Security for the elderly, disabled, widows or orphans. They don’t believe those in financial need should receive medical care, food, shelter or sustenance of any kind from the rest of us. They believe faith organizations and wealthy individuals can handle the need and that most people who need a hand are lazy. But what I don’t understand is why they make the poor out to be such a financial problem. If capitalism and “job creators” can solve all social needs, why don’t they employ the poor with a livable wage? And why isn’t the right more upset by corporate welfare and the imbalanced tax structure that allow multinational corporations to make obscene profits and pay no taxes? Why blame the poor and food support which is less than half of the corporate welfare. I can’t answer for what is in the hearts of the conservatives. I suggest they look deep at their own fears and bigotry.