Report on hunger urges $12 billion solution Calif. study blames deficient planning

June 11, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- A yearlong University of California, Los Angeles, study on hunger in inner cities found that 27 percent of residents in one South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood say they do not have enough money to buy food and that their families go hungry an average of five days each month.

Yet the Los Angeles emergency food system is so overwhelmed, the study says, that food pantries and soup kitchens -- which have seen demand jump 38 percent between 1991 and 1992 -- are being forced to cut the amount of groceries given out and turn away one of four who come to their doors.

The study -- which UCLA reports is the first to address hunger by looking at the nation's food system from the field to the consumer -- tackles both the causes of and long-term solutions to what it calls a dearth of affordable, quality food in the United States's inner cities, areas historically abandoned by supermarket chains.

"The failure is due to inadequate planning, not only inadequate ,, resources," the study says in calling for a Los Angeles council to coordinate plans for food production and distribution.

Among the study's major recommendation are greater federal food programs, fewer restrictions on street vendors peddling food and giving power to newly formed food councils to condemn inner-city land for new supermarkets. The total cost is estimated at $12 billion.

Such a strategy has been adopted in recent years in Toronto and Hartford, Conn. In Hartford, where the city food commission does everything from launching urban gardening programs and food cooperatives to providing incentives for supermarkets to build in inner cities, "access to food has significantly increased" and hunger has been reduced, said Ellen Haas, assistant secretary for food and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who praised the approach.

"We can't address hunger on an individual level; we must do so as a community issue," said Robert Gottlieb, a lecturer at UCLA's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning who helped oversee six researchers working on the more than 400-page study, to be released next week.

"Food is a right, just as health care is considered a right."

But the study's conclusions have drawn criticism from conservatives who have raised questions about the cost of implementing its recommendations.

"There is no evidence of poverty-related malnutrition in the U.S.," said Robert Rector, senior policy analyst for welfare issues for the conservative Heritage Foundation. He lambasted the premise of the report, saying that government studies have shown the only nutrient poor children don't receive in recommended amounts is iron.

Mr. Rector said the study's proposal to boost federal spending ++ on food programs by $12 billion over four years is unlikely as President Clinton wields his scissors in Washington.

Hunger in the United States persists and increased markedly in the 1980s, despite overflowing grain silos and fields filled with rotting produce, the study says. Among the reasons: a restructuring of the national economy toward low-paying service sector jobs, and cutbacks in welfare and food assistance programs.

Declining real wages also have taken a toll, the study notes. The percentage of full-time workers earning wages below the poverty level for a family of four jumped to 18 percent in 1990 from 12.1 percent in 1979.

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