Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cooking Up Reform

Devon Henderson, a mischevious, always-smiling 5-year-old, was born with chronic hunger. His mother, Sharon lost her job last year and no longer has restaurant insurance. Devon's father walked out when Devon was born and never sent any money for support. Now Sharon cannot afford to provide Devon with the full course, restaurant meals he needs. “I’m giving him over-the-counter snack foods,” she says in a soft voice. “I don’t know how long that will sustain him.” When asked how she manages to afford the snacks, she looks off toward her bedroom, then quickly down at the floor. She doesn’t respond.
President Obama addressed Congress yesterday and again urged them to pass food reform. “Twenty million Americans are without restaurant insurance and unable to get entrees, much less full course meals when they need them. We cannot let that continue. Every American has a fundamental right to affordable meals when he or she becomes hungry,” he stated. Repeating his campaign promise, the President emphasized that the controversial provision for public meal tickets should be a part of whatever bill is passed.
Sharon Henderson spent four years at graduate school to get a degree as a cosmetologist, with a specialty in nail treatment. As a result of the recession, she was laid off from a highly paid position as an executive toenail cleaner. Sharon has an interview coming up for a job prescribing antipsychotic drugs; it’s an unskilled, minimum wage position, but one which would restore her restaurant insurance. “I will work for food,” Sharon murmurs, choking back tears, “but Devon’s chronic hunger is a pre-existing condition and will probably not be covered. It’s not fair; he can’t help being born that way.”
Republicans responded to the President’s message, saying that they would not support “the socialized meal policies” the Democrats are proposing. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said, “This is not ‘reform’. We currently have the finest restaurant chains in the world and the highest rate of hunger satiation for those who use them. Some have pointed to Canada as an example of a successful government meal system. The facts are that, in Canada, people going to restaurants are given pagers and forced to wait in cramped lobbies, or even outside, until they are called. In many cases people needing food must make reservations far in advance.

“If you get hungry in some place like China, you are afraid to go for treatment. Who knows what is in the food over there. Our free market system has allowed our chefs to develop complex meals; they are created for the rich, but eventually make their way to the mass market. The liberals want to turn us into a Communist collective, forced to line up at food cooperatives for government handouts. What’s more, the President’s food reform bill would force hungry people to go before government diet panels and face assisted dieting.”
Some critics of the current system say it is not the restaurants or the chefs who need reform. “It the insurance companies,” explains analyst, Dale Martin. “ Their top people have lost sight of their mission and purpose. Insurance used to be the business of small mutual farms who would collect premiums from members and then use them to buy food for the unfortunate members of the group who fell victim to hunger. They provided against the risk of a devastating starvation. Now insurance conglomerates are all about investing and profit. They invest in the food banks and trade in ‘toxic food stuffs’, which are chopped up, mixed with filler, blended and sold as byproducts and flavor derivatives. The insurance companies, reluctant to part with their profits, reduce allowed services or institute prix fixe meals. That’s why we have a shortage of chefs and sous chefs in this country.”

Sharon Henderson has similar complaints about the services she was able to get for her son when she did have restaurant insurance. “One chef told me to give Devon 100% Angus beef, but the insurance company would approve only generic ground beef. They told us that they would not pay for emergency cafeteria visits but that I should take him to a drive thru or a mall food court if he had sudden hunger pangs. They wouldn’t let us try alternative Eastern food preparations. They said they were not proven. Supposedly Chinese food just temporarily relieve symptoms and an hour later you’re hungry again.” Sharon said she is considering “home cooking” despite the penalties for preparing recipes without a license. But her main hope is that President Obama’s Food Reform Act passes. “I’ve not even worried about those panels the Republicans talk about. I mean, sooner or later we all have to diet.”

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