The Language of Hunger

Aid Programs:

Commodity Distribution: A program that provides foodstuffs rather than money or meal distribution.

Economic Assistance Program: A program that provides money or credits that can be used to purchase food. Examples include welfare (money) and SNAP (food stamps – a prepaid card good only on certain food items)

Feeding Program: A program that provides prepared meals. This includes programs likeMeals on Wheels, the National School Lunch Program, and soup kitchens.

Food Shelf/Food Bank: A public or private non-profit organization that collects and distributes foodstuffs to individuals in need. Many food banks receive product from commodity distribution programs.



Deficiency/Undernutrition: Lack of adequate nutrients. An individual can have a deficiency of a particular nutrient if he/she avoids certain foods without replacing the nutrient by supplements. Deficiency is not always tied to hunger or food insecurity, it can also be caused by some medical conditions and poor choices.

Kwashiorkor: Protein deficiency. Characterized by edema (swelling) and a distended belly. This is what you often see on the news in places experiencing famine.

Malnutrition: Lack of adequate nutrients. An individual may be malnourished without being underweight. For example, if a person consumes a steady diet of fast food hamburgers, he or she may be getting enough calories to ward off starvation (marasmus) and enough protein to prevent kwashiorkor, but still be lacking vital minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.

Marasmus: Body wasting caused by extreme malnourishment, in particular a lack of calories. Characterized by loss of muscle, visible bones, and appearing as if the head is too big for the emaciated body. (Think of the pictures you’ve seen of liberating the concentration camps at the end of WWII)

Obesity/overnutrition: Excess body weight. Obesity causes a variety of health problems. It is not always indicative of an adequate diet and many obese people have deficiencies and even malnutrition.


Causes of Hunger:

Famine: A period of extreme scarcity in a particular region. Famines are often caused by droughts and other natural disasters as well as wars and political disasters that interrupt a region’s ability to grow or import foodstuffs.

Food Desert: An area where residents face barriers to accessing a variety of healthy foods. Many urban areas are food deserts, with no grocery stores beyond the small corner markets that offer few (if any) fresh ingredients and generally have high prices.

Insecurity (food or water): Occasional periods of inadequate access to safe water and nutritious food. For example, if a family’s wage earner is laid off the family may face periodic insecurity, or a dry season may make safe water scarce for a time.