Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
When the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 16,000 earlier this month, headlines throughout the country trumpeted the milestone as a sign of recovery for the economy.
Away from Wall Street, among the working poor in America's suburbs, small towns and larger metropolitan areas, the trumpets of a thriving economy do not sound. What we too often hear in the back streets and even on some main streets is the drumbeat of the desperate, or the plaintive strings of hope postponed.
Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.
I love Thanksgiving. I love everything about it: gathering three generations around the table, pausing for a moment with heads bowed to thank God for our abundant blessings, carrying a tradition across the centuries, watching my beloved Texas Longhorns play football. I even love clanging the pots and scraping the plates afterward. And I especially love the eating. We are traditionalists in my family, so it's turkey and stuffing, and three kinds of pie.
I am hoping this year to add one more item to the menu: a small serving of conscience. For as we gorge ourselves, Congress is contemplating drastic cuts in food aid for the least of our brethren. Food stamps, formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for the Poor, or SNAP, help poor people eat - simple as that.
Recent cuts to SNAP benefits have left 47 million people with $36 a month less to spend on food. That cut (based on a family of four) is a 5% reduction to an already stretched budget. Millions of others who don't qualify for benefits, but who still struggle to feed their families, are finding the aisles of their local food banks more crowded with fellow shoppers than ever before.
We asked our readers, via our comments and Facebook, to share their strategies for making the most of their limited food funds. Here's what they had to say.
Cook without a kitchen
Marisa Miller is a married mother of two who never imagined she'd find herself relying on the kindness of others to feed her family. As a former chef, her life was filled with abundant food, and her husband had a lucrative job. Between the two of them, an organic, grass-fed, sustainable and delicious life seemed assured.
But things changed. Her husband left that job to pursue a career in a field about which he was passionate, and in the height of the recession, his salary was cut by 60%. The family became food insecure in a matter of months.
Their household income is just above the qualifying levels to receive SNAP, WIC or any other kind of assistance. After bills, Miller has just $100 left over for food, gas, clothing, band-aids, toilet paper and other necessities. She supplements her grocery-buying with trips to her local Sacramento, California, food pantry and an awful lot of thoughtful, creative cooking and meal planning.
"No one is living off Top Ramen in this house," Miller told Eatocracy in an e-mail exchange.
Here's what she had to say about dignity, practicality and perception when you're struggling to feed your family.
Anthony Bourdain and panelists discuss sustainable food and the fact that 52% of fast food workers' families need public aid.
On November 12, Dr. Sanjay Gupta hosts CNN Dialogues, focusing on the issues of food security and food deserts in the United States, with a particular emphasis on the nearly 16 million children who spend their days and nights hungry. Learn more about the series here. Panelist Hugh Acheson is the chef/partner of Five & Ten and The National in Athens, Georgia and Empire State South in Atlanta, Georgia as well as a judge on the current season on Top Chef, and author of "A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen."
Today is Veterans Day and I would like to thank my grandfather for his sacrifice. I don’t think he was fighting for his individual rights when he lost his life during World War II, riding in a jeep far into enemy territory in Occupied France. He was fighting for a greater idea of freedom that defines modern democracies, a collective freedom that allows us individual liberty. First we succeed together, which gives us the allowance to succeed as individuals.
When we build a society, as we continue to do every day, we need to think of everyone. Success for the lower and middle class in recent years has been made difficult to attain as the American dream has become an elusive goal. Stacked against success are many pitfalls that seem to keep the poor, well, poor. High interest rate loans, lack of viable employment, housing-market collapses: all of these things have not only kept people from rising out of poverty but have driven more people into it.
The poverty rate for children in my state of Georgia is 26%, a figure that makes me queasy. Cuts to programs to assist those in need make me angry. It’s a divisive issue but I prefer to be on the side of trying to help those in need. I just firmly believe in this statement: We are better off as a country when all of our kids have access to nutritious food.
Editor's note: John Bare is vice president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and executive-in-residence at Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship.
The movement to eradicate food deserts would benefit from, of all things, banishment of the term food desert.
In a job where I'm seeking innovations that allow more families to have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, I'm struck that advocates seem mostly interested in mapping and remapping the same neighborhoods to establish conclusive proof that food deserts exist. By the USDA definition, that means documenting "a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet."
The problem is that this approach focuses on diagnosis but not cure. It's as if doctors kept perfecting the test for polio without looking for a vaccine.
Starting Friday, Joyce Lewis and her family will lose $44 from their monthly food stamp benefits.
The food stamps buy a lot of economical rice-based meals for the family - four adults and a grandson who live with Lewis in Spring Hill, Florida.
Occasionally, when her grocery store is running a deal, Lewis indulges the family with spare ribs or chicken.
The benefit - totaling $800 for four adults - never lasts Lewis and her family a full month.
Editor's note: Bob Aiken is chief executive of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to feed the hungry through a national network of member food banks and also fosters efforts to end hunger.
In the last few weeks, the media has been ablaze with news of the government shutdown, the debt limit and health care reform. Missing from most public debate, however, is the cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits that will take place on November 1 and will affect every one of the more than 47 million Americans who depend on the program to help meet their basic nutritional needs.
When the changes are implemented, everyone enrolled in the SNAP program will see their benefits cut. For example, a family of four that qualifies for the maximum monthly benefit will lose $36 a month - that's a 5% reduction.