Here we go again. A caller to Sean Hannity‘s radio show suggested that voters can’t identify with Mitt Romney because he’s never gone to bed hungry, and that most Americans have. Hannity, as you might imagine, sharply disagreed. Though he acknowledged that 47 million Americans are in poverty, he continued:
That does not mean they’re going to bed hungry. If you look at some of the poorest people in the country—I went through these stats last week—most people have refrigerators and freezers and air conditioners and televisions and DVRs or, I’m sorry, DVDs or something, and stereos and cars. They just don’t have the best and the latest and they don’t live in the nicest neighborhoods.
Most Americans, even in poverty, have a basic level of living, a standard of living that is decent. [...]
We start, in other words, with the “American poor people aren’t poor because they have televisions” canard, a favorite of conservatives denying the reality of poverty. There are so many problems with this, but let’s just pick two out of the grab bag: Refrigerators and televisions are luxury goods these days? I’m sorry, just no. More than that, lots of people have things that they got during a period of relative affluence. Or they have hand-me-down electronics, or things bought used or otherwise obtained in ways that don’t mean they have enough money day to day. And food is something that requires having money every single day. Hannity continued:
You can get things—for example, I have friends of mine that eat rice and beans all the time. Beans—protein; rice—inexpensive. You can make a big pot of this for a week for relatively negligible amounts of money for your whole family and feed your family, not the … look, you should have vegetables and fruit in there as well, but if you need to survive you can survive off it. It’s not ideal, you know, you get some cheap meat, too, and throw in there as well for protein. There are ways to live really really cheaply.
Note the slippage in Hannity’s ideas about food. You can live on rice and beans for a negligible amount of money! Well, yes … you should have fruits and vegetables and meats and cheeses in with that rice and beans, but it’s still cheap!
Negligible for whom, Sean? And how much exactly would all these fruits and vegetables and meats and cheeses you want to throw into the pot add to that “negligible” cost? Healthy, low-calorie foods are astronomically more expensive than junk food, and the prices are more likely to increase sharply. So Hannity’s afterthoughts, casually tossed into the pot with rice and beans, add up quickly. And the search for cheap meat is what leads us to ground beef filled with pink slime and a host of equally unappealing additives.
Here are some facts: 14.5 percent of households experienced food insecurity at some point in 2010. That’s 48.8 million people. For most of those households, that doesn’t necessarily mean going to bed hungry; instead, it means “using a variety of coping strategies, such as eating less varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.” But I think we can agree that just as Mitt Romney has never gone to bed hungry, he’s never had to face the choice between eating rice and beans every night or going to bed hungry, or going to a food pantry or going to bed hungry, and that those choices are less than ideal. On top of that, at least 11.3 million adults experienced “very low food security” during 2010, meaning that they did have to reduce food intake—literally go to bed hungry. But if you’re food insecure, even if you’re not going to bed hungry, that doesn’t mean you’re doing well if it’s because you’ve filled up on cheap, calorie-dense foods. Doing that has enormous health costs for people forced to eat cheaply (and for our health care system).
So, you know, I’d love to see Sean Hannity—a man who apparently doesn’t even like to do his own damn grocery shopping—eat rice and beans for a good long time, unseasoned, because spices are expensive, and with no hope of anything better or even different in the immediate future, and then return to a discussion of just what hunger means and how American poverty is a “decent” standard of living in which hunger doesn’t exist.
All that said, where I differ from the caller is that I don’t think you have to go all the way to saying people can’t identify with Mitt Romney because he doesn’t know what it is to go to bed hungry. I’ve never gone to bed hungry for economic reasons, but I still can’t identify with Romney—because I’ve also never gone to bed thinking about getting a car elevator.