Cover image for Growing up empty : the hunger epidemic in America
Growing up empty : the hunger epidemic in America
Schwartz-Nobel, Loretta.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 252 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HC110.P6 S327 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HC110.P6 S327 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HC110.P6 S327 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HC110.P6 S327 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HC110.P6 S327 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Already lauded as "a deft blend of tough investigative reporting and deep compassion . . . an unforgettable exploration of public policy, its failures and its victims" by the most respected senators, members of Congress, journalists and hunger advocates in the country, Growing Up Empty is a study of a hidden epidemic that still remains largely unacknowledged at the highest political levels. A call to action that will reenergize the national debate on the federal government's priorities, Growing Up Empty is advocacy journalism at its best.

In 1981, President Reagan incongruously announced to the world that there were no hungry souls in the richest nation in the world, that poverty had been virtually wiped out. But Schwartz-Nobel had found a different story in America's communities, and she laid bare the horrifying truth about hunger in the United States in her landmark work on hunger, Starving in the Shadow of Plenty. That book caused Americans to reexamine their priorities.

Twenty years later, Schwartz-Nobel returned to see how things had improved -- and discovered that it was all the same. As she tracked this hidden political and emotional battle, she was shocked to find that hunger is deeper and wider than she could have imagined, that it has reached epic proportions. It is running rampant through urban, rural and suburban communities, affecting blacks, whites, Asians, Christians, Jews and nonbelievers alike. And it is getting worse. The stories of the people she encountered are the core of Growing Up Empty. With a combination of skillful investigative reporting and a novelist's sympathetic and humanistic eye for detail, Loretta Schwartz-Nobel portrays an unforgettable reality of human suffering that need not exist.

Among the people we come to know in these pages are the new breed of homeless born of the "Welfare to Work" program -- working poor who have jobs but do not make enough to support their families-, immigrants who work under horrifying conditions for little money and fewer benefits; a formerly middle-class dentist's wife abandoned by her husband, reduced to stealing in order to feed her hungry children; soldiers who fight on our front lines, while their hungry young wives and children stand on bread lines and are denied benefits and baby formula at military health clinics.

In the "affecting and powerful" Growing Up Empty, Loretta Schwartz-Nobel has found the shrouded and silent victims of our public policies and brings us into their homes and hearts.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Schwartz-Nobel, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award, follows up her groundbreaking 1981 expos, Starving in the Shadow of Plenty, with a new report, aiming to tell additional stories of America's hungry children-reportedly more than 12 million in number-because "[n]umbers are for the mind and stories are for the heart." Traveling coast to coast, she reaches into the hearts, minds and hopes of the disenfranchised, in particular single mothers and their children. She uncovers hunger in rural, urban and suburban neighborhoods, among the working poor and immigrants, even within the military and the middle class. The increase of hunger in America she documents as a direct result of Reagan's federal aid cutbacks in the 1980s as well as the 1996 welfare to work laws, which changed welfare and food stamp policies. These changes, coupled with high rents, income disparity and politicians rendering the problem invisible through political rhetoric, have, according to Schwartz-Nobel, exacerbated the hunger crisis. With equal parts outrage and compassion, she emphasizes the effects of hunger on the health of the entire nation and calls for awareness, action and above all a change of political heart. "This silent American epidemic is caused by people, by acts of man, not acts of God or nature." Shocking, informative and often devastating, this is a vital report on the politics of hunger and the silent Americans who are its victims. Agent, Ellen Levine. (Nov. 12) Forecast: Readers who appreciated Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed are a target audience for this account of the have-nots in America. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Schwartz-Nobel's first book, Starving in the Shadow of Plenty, was an award-winning account of the extent to which extreme hunger was rampant in Philadelphia in the early Eighties. This work revisits and expands on that topic, looking at the underlying factors relating to the surge in homeless and hungry families in America since then. She pays special attention to the impact of government programs, especially the Welfare to Work Act of 1996, which dismissed the sources and conditions of poverty in the rush to reduce the numbers receiving welfare support, a theme also highlighted in Lost Ground: Welfare Reform, Poverty and Beyond, edited by Randy Albelda and Ann Withorn (South End, 2002). Along with wrenching stories of struggling, malnourished, primarily single-parent families throughout our country, Schwartz-Nobel traces the involvement of food relief networks, private and public services, and other organizations that serve admirably but are still only palliatives. She strongly argues for a responsible political will to support programs utilizing resources, existing know-how, and technologies to deal constructively with the burgeoning number of shelter- and food-insecure households (working and middle class) in America. Recommended for academic, professional, and public attention.-Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Hunger and the Middle Class Divorce and the Downward Spiral Ruth blushed deeply when she opened the front door of her gabled Victorian home. She was embarrassed because she knew that no one expected to find hunger here among the beautiful estates, expansive green lawns, expensive shops, BMWs, swimming pools and thoroughbred horses. Her upscale suburb is a blend of old and new money. Affluence manifests itself in the architecture, the attitudes, even the supermarkets. "I found myself in this situation literally overnight," she said, her thin arms waving like sea plants as she led me through a central hall, past a winding, carpeted staircase into the once formal dining room that now serves as her makeshift office. She was a pretty woman even now after four years of hardship, thin but still sensuous, a thirty-eight-year-old college graduate with thick brown hair and a deep commitment to Judaism. "About an hour before a big family bar mitzvah, my husband, who's a physician, told me he was in love with his office assistant. It was a total shock. I was standing in the bathroom putting on my makeup. My eighty-four-year-old father was sitting downstairs on the living room sofa all dressed up in his suit and my kids were running around the bedroom chasing the hamster. Out of nowhere, my husband opened the bathroom door without knocking and told me, like it was a weather report, that he was having an affair with a twenty-two-year-old kid. My legs got weak. I started shaking. I couldn't even turn around to look at him but I saw his reflection in the mirror. "'Alan, I can't deal with this now,' I finally said. 'How could you tell me a thing like this when we're on our way out the door? How can I stand there with you and all these relatives and make polite conversation and act like nothing is wrong?' "'Yes, of course. I understand. I'm sorry,' he said, quietly. He lowered his head in deference to me. My husband was always a master of the bedside manner. 'You go. We'll talk when you come home.' "So I took the kids and my father and I went, which was probably the worst mistake of my life, besides marrying him in the first place, but I needed time to think. I wanted to appear calm and in control." Ruth suddenly stopped talking and motioned me toward a chair with green upholstery. "I'm sorry," she said, pressing my hand into her palm. "I didn't even think to offer you a chair. I just started talking my head off. This subject always gets me going. I should never have let him out of my sight," she continued once I was sitting, "but I didn't know then what I know today. When I got home, two hundred dollars was on the table. He had cleaned out his papers, packed his bag and left." She shook her head, her body bent forward a little and her shoulders fell. "Not even a note. That was in August. On that day, that one summer day, our whole world changed. Can you imagine?" I put down my notebook and thought of telling her that my own husband left, in much the same way, two years after he graduated from medical school. I thought about saying that I understood, not just the economic crisis and the fear of hunger, but the other feeling of loss. Ruth seemed like she was about to say something. I laid the bundle of my own feelings and memories aside and picked up my notebook again. "You look upset. I'm sorry if I upset you. You want a glass of water?" she asked. "We've got plenty of water." "Yes. Thanks," I said as I glanced around the room. There were court briefs, letters and legal documents piled on the table and stacked on the chairs. When Ruth came back with the water and saw me looking around, she sniffed and grabbed a Kleenex from a box that sat in the middle of the dining room table. "You think this is a lot of paperwork," she said as she handed me the glass. "This is just the beginning. This is nothing." Her eyes moistened. "I have crates and crates of legal papers upstairs. It's been a long fight. I'm in a situation that I never expected to be in. All I ever wanted to have was a happy, complete family because that's the thing I had missed the most in my own childhood. "I know now that I'm like a lot of women, millions of women who've been left alone without support, but I didn't know that then. I had no idea what to do when he walked out, absolutely no idea. He has a private practice in the city. It cost $350,000 to finance. I had cosigned the loan, so when he disappeared I shared his debts but not his assets. He had emptied our joint account, so I had no money at all for about a week. When we ran out of food, I began borrowing money from my father, but he didn't have much because we had already borrowed most of my father's retirement money when we bought this house. "I started by calling lawyers right out of the Yellow Pages but they all wanted retainers of fifteen hundred to three thousand dollars just to get started. I didn't have it, of course. So, tell me what does a woman do when, all of a sudden, something like this happens that she never expected to happen?" I was silently taking notes, still searching for something reassuring to say. My own husband had promised to send child support, then stopped after a few months. I had finally asked a cousin who was an attorney to help but I never received monthly payments again. There was no point in telling her that. Excerpted from Growing Up Empty by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel Copyright © 2002 by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.