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Hunger in Orange County and the Public's Conscience

October 20, 1985

On Oct. 6, The Times ran an editorial on the case of Ilberto Vasquez, who was prosecuted for looking for food in the trash bins of the City of Orange. On Oct. 7, in Washington, D. C., several Orange County congressmen voted for a farm bill amendment to hold down 1986 food-stamp benefits.

In the Vasquez case and the food-stamp vote, public officials were doing their best to reflect the attitudes of their constituents.

A social worker I know says that the well-off want government to keep the lid on the human garbage so that they are not bothered by the smell. That's a blunt way of saying that if there are poor, hungry people here, we would prefer not to be reminded of them. So the City of Orange made it illegal for people to be seen rummaging through trash bins.

Why was Mr. Vasquez looking for food amidst the trash? The Times blames local poverty agencies for not getting the word out about their services, but the Physician Task Force on Hunger in America reported earlier this year that the current hunger epidemic is a result of failed federal government policies. Most hungry people rely on food stamps, which provide a maximum of about 48 cents per person per meal. Few of them look for food in trash bins but many go to soup kitchens and food banks near the end of the month, when their food stamps have run out. After several years of cutbacks, the food-stamp program is no longer adequate.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the farm bill after rejecting the Emerson amendment to cut food stamps, 171-238. The Senate will be acting on its version later this month. Rather than berate local agencies for failing to inform poor people of their services, it might be more effective to contact Sens. Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson and urge them to support an adequate food-stamp program.

Unfortunately, most of us will probably not do that because we are committed to our pretense that there are no hungry people here.



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