The Poor are not Hungry, They are Malnourished

Hunger is different from malnutrition. Hunger means you don’t have enough food eat. Being malnourished means that you don’t have enough of the right food to eat. This is a huge distinction that gets lost in development. One could argue that malnourishment can fall under the umbrella of hunger but the problem with that is that the two call for completely different policy solutions and therefore we must have a distinction between the two.

If someone is hungry you give them anything as we do. Corn, grain, or any other staple good that is each to supply and ship. If someone is malnourished they need meat, vegetables, fruit, or some other item that is harder to obtain and usually not easy or cheap to transport.

Conflict zones aside, the poor are not hungry as Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee found and documented in Poor Economics. When incomes of the poor increased their caloric intake did not increase, meaning they are not hungry. They did spend more money on food which means that they traded staple foods for more expensive food like meat. One can survive on staple goods but they do not provide the proper nutrition to have one achieve their highest cognitive growth possible.

Food drops, which are always staple goods, do nothing to address this issue. Moreover they disrupt local supply chains and adversely effect farmers which are always the poorest of the poor. Again, aside from conflict zones where supply chains are already disrupted, there is virtually zero evidence supporting large subsidies of staple foods for food drops corn and grains.

The core in addressing malnutrition is really addressing income. A more nuanced but very important issue in malnourishment is that the poor can have enough money on hand for proper nutrition for long periods but shocks to income which often occur do great harm and stunt the growth to children. Microfinance helps this but cash transfers are better.


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