“Over 80 percent of our school children here in Storm Lake, Iowa, are in danger of going hungry,” the director of a Food Insecurity Summit tells me. “They eat breakfast and lunch at school, then we send a backpack full of food home with them on the week-ends.”
These hungry students are mostly the children of immigrant workers at the local Tyson Foods factory, a meat-packing plant at the edge of town that employs a good share of the town’s residents. From Asia, Africa, Central and Latin America, the food workers go to work each day to wield knives on the kill floor and stand in one place for hours in the chilly production line, slaughtering, processing, and packaging the pork that eventually finds its way to supermarkets throughout the United States. With the relentless drive for profits in the food industry, and unions a thing of the past, the meat-packing employees find it difficult to make enough money to house, clothe and feed their families. Food is the first thing to go.
And so these social, religious, and local and state relief workers have gathered on a crisp spring day in Storm Lake (population 10,600) to explore better and more efficient ways to combat food insecurity in the American Midwest, the center of the agricultural heartland. Key people in the state convene for the entire day to address hunger issues among its most vulnerable populations—the elderly, disabled, students, the impoverished, the unemployed, and of course, the underpaid but fully employed like those working in one of Iowa’s 106 meat-packing companies.
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