ERS Panel meeting part 2

ERS Panel meeting part 2

October 10, 2019 0 By Ewald Bahringer


panel’s members Margaret
Andrews and Mark Nord also worked at ERS as part
of their careers and I am glad to have had the
opportunity to work closely with them. Other panel members Lynn Parker Christine Olson, Steven Carlson and Gary
Bickel I have seen in action at meetings
and conferences. The contributions of any
one of these folks to the field of food insecurity is
impressive and their collective contribution
is downright astounding. So astounding in fact that
it reminds me of another famous group and, well,
I’ll admit it: of my personal trouble at
home with my wife. (Laughter) Earlier this summer Mrs.
Prell and I watched a marvelous PBS series that
originally aired some years ago. I don’t know what I would
do without Netflix or a wife who enjoys finding hidden
gems for us to share. She found a six part
biography on John Adams. really, about John Adams
and Abigail Adams in an equal-partner marriage
that was perhaps distinctive for the 1700s. Mrs. Prell and I enjoyed
the series immensely and soon after she got a
biography for me from Amazon.com. Declaring it
to be “Founding Fathers Summer”, she picked up some light
reading for me about George Washington… (Laughter) …and Ben Franklin… (Laughter continues) …and Alexander
Hamilton about which… the current hit play is based on. And finally, for an
international dimension: Lafayette. My personal problem is
that I fear my wife may think I don’t appreciate
her getting me these great books because I’ve only
finished one of them reading a few pages on
each Metro ride. And I don’t dare mention to her
that she didn’t include the John Adams biography. At any rate I am starting
to learn much about our Founding Fathers. And that
is what brings us together here for this panel: to hear from the founding
fathers and founding mothers of the Food
Security Measure and research based on it. We will hear from each in
person, which is better than some written
biography and much more Succinct. And better
than hearing from just Washington or just
Franklin we have a full ensemble who will share
their reminiscences and insights, achievements and
challenges and, towards the end of our session, answer
your questions. And with that let’s wind back the
clock, returning in history to just around the time of
the American Revolution in food security measure. (Laughter) Lynn Parker is our
first panelist. (Applause) Well that, those many
years ago I wasn’t wearing these but now I am. I, it’s great to be
here. Thanks a lot for inviting me. Before I start I wanted
to let you know that I’m speaking for myself and
about my experiences when I worked at FRAC and not
on behalf of the Institute of Medicine
where I am now. And for those of you who
don’t know FRAC stands for, Food Research and Action
Center and it’s a group that works to among other
things protect the federal nutrition programs and
expand their reach and their benefits for people
who are low income and, and food insecure. So without further adieu
I’d like to begin with some historical
background. In the early 1980s, we’re
going back 30 years as Cathie Woteki said earlier,
a recession hit the United States hard and brought
with it major economic difficulties for poor and
middle class people. And at that time, at the same time,
Congress cut back on funding for safety net
and nutrition assistance programs making them less
effective at buffering and protecting people from
the economic turndown, downturn. The negative
results of this, these conditions and
policy actions came as a great shock to communities
across the country. And the small number of food
pantries and soup kitchens that existed at that time
couldn’t handle the need. There was, there were long
lines at emergency food centers and many families
with children started showing up. Now I know for
people who are, who are recently born, it
will be hard to imagine a, a world in which there
aren’t food banks and where, and where large
numbers of people are showing up in long lines,
although that still happens sometimes. But
that’s what was happening in the early 1980s. The community
organizations that FRAC had worked with for
decades came to us and said, “We want to convince
people there’s a problem. Many of our policymakers
just don’t believe there’s a problem in our community
and can’t believe it.” And also at the same time
the Executive Branch of the, of the government
started a President’s Task Force in food assistance
and they concluded, “While we have found evidence of
hunger in the sense that some people have
difficulty obtaining adequate access to food, we
have also found that it has been impossible at
present to estimate the extent of hunger.” So local anti-hunger
organizations came to us and asked
us to help them out in, in trying to convince
managers and convince policymakers about
what was going on. FRAC responded with, among
other things, a little brochure on how to
document hunger in your community. But clearly that
wasn’t sufficient and so was born the Community
Childhood Hunger Identification Project. In thinking about how to
meet local community needs it was very important
to FRAC and to the anti-hunger community
advocates to develop a survey that was,
whose methodology was scientifically sound
and that accurately, accurately represented the
extent of the problem. We formed a technical
advisory committee of survey research
specialists and health experts to do some of the
fundamental thinking that would be required to
develop such a measure. And a series of questions and
a whole methodology was developed to do this at
the community level. Working with human service
programs in Connecticut and Washington state we,
and working also with the local National Survey
experts, a highly skilled principal investigator,
and well-trained data collectors that
were survey, were hired from the
community the survey, who developed a series of
pilot surveys. And they were a great success. We were astonished as were
the local folks, at the enormous response from the
results of the surveys when they were released. Government officials and
the press were just blown away by the results. And
this is in the early 1980s and early to late 1980s
that the numbers that we were showing of, that
represented the problems in their communities.
And they responded with anti-hunger initiatives.
They responded with program expansions with
increased funding to deal with the problem. So then FRAC moved to
expand this survey methodology across the
country in various communities, and completed
two multi-site nationwide surveys including national
estimates based on a use a Census data with
the current statistical techniques
that were available. And in 1991 the first
National Survey Results were released. It was, with every local
release there was again the shock and concern and
action. And with the ’91 Release for those of
you who watch cable and everything else, you can’t
imagine what it meant, perhaps that all three
networks started with this story that night. That was the first story
on their list of stories. And then the next
morning local and, local newspapers, large
and small, carried this on their front pages. It was the, it was
unprecedented at the time in the communications
world of nonprofit organizations. And the
results stated an enormous difference. At first some reporters
were skeptical, you know, “a quick and dirty study
done by an advocacy group.” But what happened was they
looked at the way we did the survey, the meticulous
nature of how it was carried out, done and
imagined by our principal investigator and how it
was done at the local community level. And so the discussion
soon turned not to the methodology and, but
rather to what we should do about this problem
because clearly there are different policies and
solutions depending on who’s talking. So, and during the same
period of time I have to mention harkening back to
what Cathie Woteki talked about: FRAC and Bread for
the World, along with a number of health and
nutrition organizations worked together to, over
a long period of time to pass legislation called
the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related
Research Act and, and what that bill
contained was the hunger measure requirement. And so
that combination, I think, of that required hunger
measure which HHS and USDA began to work on, and the,
the fundamental sort of research and development
that FRAC did, served as a basis for the beginning of
a national hunger measure which, that we call “Hunger”
because that’s what we were most concerned about,
that’s what we talked about at the time. So that’s, that’s
the beginning. Our next panelist is
Christine Olsen. Thank you. So I’ve been
a professor at Cornell University since 1975
in the division of Nutritional Sciences. I’ve spent my entire
academic career at Cornell and most of the time that
I’ve been there I’ve had an extension outreach,
research and graduate teaching appointment. Cornell is one of these
strange universities that is both private and public
and we are the land grant university for the State
of New York. So we have this extension
outreach mission. And it’s in that context
that in the late 80s Cornell was very
interested in nutrition surveillance
and monitoring. It had a long tradition of
working internationally in this area, but the, was
shifting to a focus on New York State because
our governor and, and the New York State
Department of Health were very interested in state
level and county level and city level nutrition
monitoring and surveillance. So in 1987 a graduate
student named Kathy Radimer came along and
with funding from the New York State Department of
Health did what we called a naturalistic or qualitative
inquiry into the nature of food deprivation
from the ground up, from the perspective of
women with children and their families. She interviewed 32 women,
in-depth interviews with 32 women in rural
and urban areas of, of New York State. And from
what she did I want to share with you a couple of
the seminal contributions. And One was this idea
that there really are two conceptions of
what, as Lynn said, we were calling hunger at
the time. And I’m going to read a quote from one of
the women which I think captures this both
narrow and broad conceptualization
of hunger. “Going ‘hungry, hungry’ is
when there is absolutely nothing in the house but
also going ‘hungry’ is when you have to eat the same
thing all week long and you have no variation from
it and you know sooner or later you’re going to run
out of that too because it’s only going
to go so far. So each day you cut the
portions down a little bit, smaller and smaller,
a little bit smaller and you have a tendency to
send your kid off to play with somebody else so that
they’re there at meal time so that they do eat.” So it was from that, that
this concept of food insecurity, this broad,
broader conceptualization of food deprivation called
“food insecurity” immerged. Kathy’s work also pointed
out that the experience is different at the household
and the individual level and that the, that this
is a multi-dimensional construct that had a
quantitative component, amount of food; a
qualitative component, quality of the diet; a
psychological component, anxiety and worry; and
a social component. Based on that
conceptualization and using the words of the
women she had interviewed Kathy developed items
that could measure these constructs that were at
the intersection of the household individual level,
like a four dimensions. Went out then and did a
survey with the population that she had drawn
her original in depth interview sample from and,
and conducted the survey and got the data and then
assessed the quality of the scales that
merged from that. So the result was what we
call The Radimer Cornell Hunger and Food Insecurity
Measure and a Doctoral Degree for Kathy
Radimer in 1990… (Laughter)… that was another very
positive outcome of that. But then there was a
second set of studies that people like Ed Frongillo
and Ann Kendell and myself were involved in. It’s great to have a
measure but you need to validate it. And again with funding
from The New York State Department of Health we
were able to administer a, a survey, the items that
Radimer developed along with some other
measures to a random sample of a county
in New York State. One of the problems with
research up to that point in time is that samples
had been gathered from what we would call
at-risk populations, people who were showing
up for food assistance, people participating in
food assistance programs. So from that we assessed
the criterion validity of The Radimer Cornell
Measure against household food supply. If you can believe this we
went into people’s households twice, we opened,
three weeks apart, we opened up
the cupboards, we opened up the freezers,
we looked at the food that was in the household. We also did assessments
of dietary intake which included fruits and
vegetables and so based on that we established the
validity of The Radimer Cornell Hunger and Food
Insecurity Measures. And then a little bit
later with that same data and Ed lead this effort we did some
work assessing sensitivity and specificity
of that measure. So I have to say I have
been astonished that these items in this scale have
held up as well as they’ve held up across time. I will say we particularly
focused on the least severe end of the scale
because coming from a sort of a public health
perspective we believe it’s easier to solve a
problem early in the progression of
the problem. If you wait till you get
all the way to child hunger you’ve got a really
big problem on your hands. So I’ve been pleased that The
Division of Nutritional Sciences and Cornell
University and myself to be involved in this has
been personally very satisfying. Our next panelist
is Steve Carlson. So now we move from the
passion of community organizers… (Laughter) …logic of the scientific
community to the reality of the bureaucratic
government. (Laughter) Which is where all the
real action is actually. (Laughter continues) So at the time we’re
talking about I was a mid-lever, mid-level Division
Director of The Food and Nutrition Service,
actually The Food and Consumer Service
at that time. About halfway through my
career I got a call at some point one afternoon
probably from Ronette (Briefel) saying we’ve got this
new working group. We’ve got to come up with
a measure of food security would you co-chair
it with me? And in my naivety
I said sure, not exactly realizing
what we were about to get into. This was a time as, as
Lynn mentioned that The National Nutrition
Monitoring and Related Research Act was current
in the structuring and sort of systematizing
nutrition monitoring efforts across the country
at the national scale. It was the time of The
Government Performance and Results Act which had
created a new emphasis on strategic planning and
performance measurement for all of our government
programs to prove that they work. It was at the tail end
of the sort of political climate of the early
Reagan years and the first Bush Administration
which I have to tell you as a career civil servant
who at that time my second level supervisor was a
political appointee our view of the world tends to
be a little changeable, malleable. So during all the activity
that Lynn and her colleagues were creating
we were compiling a huge file cabinet full of all
these studies figuring out how we can knock them down
because our folks didn’t really want to support
expansions in programs at that time. We were fortunate that
a couple of years later administrations changed
and release of The Food Security Measure actually
was overseen by Vice President Gore so the
climate had changed. We had become great
supporters of it but at the time Ronette
called I, we actually had a really
good working relationship that had not been poisoned
by the anecdote that Undersecretary Woteki
relayed and that was not me, I’m not part of that. And so we were, it
seemed okay to take this step. The reason I bring up the
political climate is that I’ve always wondered
in the years that have transpired since just
how much our political appointees knew about what
we were doing down in the bowels of their agency. Now Kevin this never
happened when I, when you arrived. (Laughter) I told you everything. (Laughter continues) And if I didn’t
I know that, that Rich is doing that
now so don’t worry about that but back then I sort
of wondered how much they knew because it was, it
was all handled at sort of, at staff level. We didn’t have very large
briefings of our political appointees, we didn’t have
day to day scrutiny of what we were doing. Frankly I don’t recall
that we met a lot of resistance at the
political level for what was going on as we’ll
probably hear as we go further. There was a lot of, the
process was a little bumpy as we go through some
of the bureaucratic hurdles, of getting clearance to do the… surveys,
a lot of debate over the questions and so forth but
it actually proceeded a little, quite a bit under
the radar for most of the time. My own role in all of this
as I come to think about it over the years have
concluded was largely as one of the midwife. I think all this stuff was
going to happen anyway with or without me but
that I had the good fortune or had
contributions such as it was to ensure
safer delivery, maybe a smoother, easier
delivery and then send this small child off into
the world to do whatever it is it was going to do. It was, the challenge for
me personally I think was dealing with my friends
and colleagues… (Laughter) who supported it. and just to give you a
sense of that while we had a very large interagency
group that cut across probably a dozen different
federal agencies a lot of the key grunt work and leg
work was done by what came to be known within FNS
as the “Feisty Group”. Five individuals Gary
Bickel, Margaret Andrews, two of them as well as
Bruce Klein, Sharon… Cristofar, I said five,
I think it was four. I’m old, my memory is not
as good as it used to be. (Indistinct comment) Well no I was not, I did
not contribute to any of the feistiness, I, I, I
tried to be above the fray but it was, it
was managing the, the perspectives,
the attitudes, the approach to all of
this that presents a challenge in any project
of this magnitude to tell you the truth. But I’m going to stop
there since Mark stood up and pass the microphone
on to Gary with one observation. I’ve said this to his face
so it won’t be a surprise but Gary was really the
creative genius within our agency that pulled all,
all of this together. I described Gary as a man
of a hundred ideas one or two of which are
actually pretty good. (Laughter) Our next panelist
is Gary Bickel. If you don’t mind, I’ll
stand so I can see the audience. I personally have roots
in agriculture which is, used to be slogan
at ERS but it still… Your hat. Yeah, my first and one of
my best friends when I came to FNS with was David
Smallwood because FNS and ERS were in the same building. ERS was on the ground
floor of course we were on the fifth floor I guess
but at any rate Dave certainly showed
me the ropes. Mark suggested some very,
very impressive questions. What was your own personal
greatest contribution? What were the greatest
obstacles you faced? Well the obstacles were
invariably people. David was one of them. (Laughter) Peo, people who
didn’t get, I’ve, I’ve always felt that
experiential knowledge, it sometimes it’s called
existential knowledge that you get from your own
experience is just so much solider and richer and
accurate than what you get from… book learning. For that reason
I, I really, really appreciated
Cheryl Wehler. Cheryl grew up in a low
income family in rural Pennsylvania. She knew what food
insecurity was, I don’t know about hunger
but she certainly knew food insecurity. So she really had and she
really had a technical eye and a CHIP set, Community
Childhood Hunger… Identification Project created one of the first
data sets that had exactly, exactly the
indicators that were needed later on. My personal contribution,
I think I just had a good eye for talent and an
instinct to try and pull people together and also
by then at FNS I had, had a lot of experience
in federal government contracting, you know,
writing an RFP which is basically writing a
research plan, you know, and telling the people
you’ll pay them money to go out and do it. Steve had a slogan
which I loved. I’d come up with one of
those many ideas and Steve would say “make
it happen…” (Laughter) …and sometimes it did
and other times it didn’t. Steve by the way, I
don’t know, is very few, talk about eye for talent
it’s very few people who select their own boss but
I did because when I came to FNS Steve was the, the
sole researcher in the Food Stamp Program branch
and he really wanted to get into the research
branch and I came into FNS as the head of the, the
research office. And I said sure you bet we need some
talent here we didn’t have any. (Laughter) And I had no formal
training in anything related to food. My PhD was from Stanford
in pure economics but I had a tremendous training
in economic theory. One of the, my, my main
mentor went on to win the Nobel Prize in
economics, Kenneth… Arrow. The main guy I worked for
did my dissertation under Hollis Chenery went on to
become the Chief Economist for USAID Agency for
International Development and then became Chief
Economist in World Bank under McNamara
and a lifelong friend. So I, I, I, I, had
economics training unlike anybody perhaps
I don’t know. There’s some other
economists I ran into, Dave was an AG Economist,
Peter Basiotis was an economist. Peter Basiotis made a
tremendous contributions in, independently folks. Anyway an eye for talent
and an instinct for pulling together and
to team work and, oh, what was the other thing? I knew there was
something else. Razor sharp memory. (Laughter) I pulled out a bunch of
old papers to prepare for this and here. I don’t know I, I, I asked
Mark to bring some copies we made for Alisha. They’re out, they’re
out at the front desk. Out at the front desk. Yeah, and so they’re
copies of all of these little schemas, a
venn diagram showing the relationship among,
amongst, oh boy. So, thank you,
so I don’t know, my contribution was
straightening out conceptually the
interrelationships among all these things. There was an immense
amount of work being done in the country back then. One of the things I found
was an unpublished paper by the core of the “Feisty
Group”, Margaret Andrews, Gary Bickel and
Bruce Klein. Bruce by the way made
a single contribution. He had been a Labor
Economist and he knew that the Current
Population Survey each month had room for
a little supplement otherwise we never
would have latched on to that. So that’s enough. I’m way over time… Mark is standing up I know I was, Mark, I just
wasn’t paying attention. (Indistinct) Alright, our next panelist is
Margaret Andrews. Thank you, I’m very glad
to be here to participate in this. I amongst the USDA people
here probably has as much longevity with this
project as Steven. I came to USDA at FNS in
1971 as a staff member at The Office of Analysis and
Evaluation for Nutrition and then I transferred
in 1998 to ERS where I retired in 2013. Along that period I was
involved in a number of different activities. Many of them, the mundane
kind of bureaucratic activities… to push projects along but some were research
contributions as well. But I, I’d like to think
by role in this whole project is similar to that
of a bass player in a rock band. (Laughter) So to, to investigate this
analogy I consulted the venerable research
resource called Dummies.com. (Laughter) They reassured me that the
role of the bass player is largely to be in the
background but has subtle, subtle crucial role of
pushing the song along, propelling it rhythmically,
rhythmically note to note and then choosing the note
to change to a new chord. So I at FNS was involved
in the activities of moving the rhythm,
rhythmic notes. In these tactical meetings
with the “Feisty Group” we moved forward with FNS
management with organizing the first Food Security
Measurement Research Conference which many of
you were here as well, with negotiating with
the Census Bureau on the structuring content
of the food security supplement and
shepherding the annual data collection
clearance with the Office of Management and Budget. On my transfer to ERS in
1998 it matched the time period where Congress also
decided to transfer a lot of the funding of FNS,
Food Nutrition Resource including the funding
for the Food Security Supplement and associated
research activity to ERS. So by being there at ERS I
had a chance there to do some smoothing on
the transition. I continued to liaison
with the Current Population Survey there,
shepherded a clearance with The Office of
Management and Budget and I organized the Second
Food Security Measurement Research Conference. The, you know, as
the years went by, the first couple of years
Mark Nord assumed more and more of the
technical and organizational responsibilities as I
transitioned into a position in The Food
Assistance and Nutrition Research Program with Dave
Smallwood as the, your, his Deputy Director for
Food Security research. But I, I continued on
until my retirement with, involved in the, in the
oversight of some of the research activities and
marginal role in the recording of the
findings and… dabbling in some of my own research in
Food Security Measurement activities. So over this long
period in my view, it was the years from 1998
to 2001 that were among the most critical years
in the development of the measure. While the FNS research had
been seen as promising in the CPS supplement was already
under production. There, there was this
tension at transition of funding between
FNS and ERS… actors. Without control of the
research funding the FNS managers and staff
had to adapt to a new collaboration role with
ERS researchers some of which were openly
skeptical of the whole project and wasn’t sure if
ERS needed to be involved at all. There were concerns also
among people in the Food Security and Research
community that the substantial funding that
had been transferred to ERS was going to get
transferred into operating ERS budget and gradually
eroded support of the project and the process
being diminished. In addition, ERS
managers and staff at that time had little experience
with the Current Population Survey. They had not worked
closely with The Office of Management and Budget and
some actors at The Office of Management and Budget
were openly hostile to the measure, so in that context
we organized and carried out The Second Food
Security Measurement and Research Conference in
Alexandria, Virginia in February 23/24 of 1999
and in my view this was pivotal, pivotal and
exposes some of these concerns and resolving
some of the issues. Again the conference
brought together renowned researchers… in the area many of whom are here
and there were, sessions that summarized
an ongoing research and sessions that organized
the dialogue about what needed to go on
in the future. The, there were many
outsiders but I think for me the high point of this
because so many economists in ERS were worried about
this where there were the remarks of Augus Deaton, the recently announced Nobel
Laureate in Economics who stated that even though
this research was not well known to most mainstream
economists they were unfamiliar with the whole
idea of The Food Security Research of more of a
subjective measure that he was seeing and I
quote, “Astonishingly, astonishingly impressive
research program”. So that, that
for me was a, a, quite a moment but there
continued despite all these positive vibes there
continued to be issues raised regarding the
advisability and merit of measuring hunger and
individual measure in the household survey. The acceptability of the
use of the terms severe hunger into the measure
are most at the end of the food security scale and
given the lack of a close association between
income measures and food insecurity measures there
was a concern that there needed to be more research
that would link this food security measure
to health, nutritional and other
program outcomes. So overall though I see
this conference as having served to solidify the
support of food security into the home at ERS. With that I pass, pass
this on to Mark Nord who will talk about the
subsequent development. Mark deserves, more
respect than anyone else in moving this forward
to where it is today. Mark Nord is our
last panelist. Thank you, I have to first
redeem if that need be done a little bit of Dave
Smallwood’s reputation. (Laughter) (Indistinct)
I worked under David’s leadership in the
Food Assistance Branch for many years and he’s
very supportive of, of the work of The Food
Security Measure although he is kind of a tough
minded economist. He doesn’t like to get too
sloppy and it’s hard for us sociologists. (Laughter) So I wanted to
just talk about two things that are a little bit
behind the scenes. The first is the technical
kind of statistical basis of The Food Security
Measure of item response theory and then the second
one is what I call the “Perilous Passage” when in
retrospect as I look back I think we could have lost
the whole project. Through strong leadership at the organizational and political
level, we managed to rescue it So the, the so called… Rasch model of item response theory,
underlying the measure, where in the world
did that come from? Well, I stumbled onto
this project by accident. So my, my training
was in, in sociology, survey methods,
measurement and so on a little bit not too much. I was, I came during
the hiring freeze. They couldn’t hire me so
they had to get a contract and the, the, The Rural
Poverty Branch where I was supposed to be working
didn’t have quite enough money and they needed a
little collaboration so they, they got a little
bit from The Food and Economics Division and to
justify that they said well, there is this new
thing that’s starting to develop about food
security measurement and we should have somebody
look into that. So that was in my,
in my contract. So after I was at ERS for
a while I thought well I have to look at this since
it’s supposed to be part of my job… (Laughter) … and so
I, I kind of wandered I, I talked to Vic Oliveira
and then kind of wandered around over at ERS, to FNS
to see what I could find out. Gary Bickel grabbed a
hold of me like this and anyway, so I ended
up in the pro, as part of this team
evaluating proposals to evaluate and develop a
measure from the first collection of data in The
Current Population Survey and one of these was a
proposal from Abt which proposed using this
method called The Item Response Theory Rasch Model and I although I had
statistical background in measurement theory I
hadn’t heard of this and so I, I just kind
of kept my cool, and didn’t act too dumb and
then when nobody was looking I ran over to
The George Washington University Library and,
and pulled out some of the articles that were cited
by The Abt Report and read up on it and got myself a
little bit informed about it and so felt like
this, yeah this, maybe this really is,
there is some solid statistical
stuff under this, probably wouldn’t
be such a bad idea. So Abt eventually won the
contract and then they educated us more about it,
I was learning something from them and they did a
pretty good job with it. They left us with a few
statistical issues that we’re still probably
dealing with but mostly they did do
good work on it. They were very rigorous. They only used one eighth
of the sample to develop the measure so they
could test in the other part. And vice versa,
in combination, and so on, so
that was all good. Eventually I, I did do a
little more formal study on, on methods and helped
the thing along a little bit along the way. I’ll be talking in a later
session of how I’m moving this out to 150 countries
so this it gets, it gets interesting. So from there I want to
talk a little bit about a “Perilous Passage”. If you, if you go
back and look at, at publication dates on
the reports you’ll notice that 2001, 2002
reports were, were published 10 months
after data collection but the 2000 report was
published 18 months after data collection and it’s a
lot fatter than the 1999 report. So what was going on here? Well during that time
there was another report published. We were requested actually
by the political side of, of, of USDA. Couldn’t we do something
about state level prevalence rates? And we, we gave a lot
of caveats, we said, there’s three years of data, the samples
were kind of small, we’ll have to publish
margins of error and so on but they agreed
to all of this. So in September of 1999 we
published Prevalence of Food Insecurity and
Hunger by State. We were still using
hunger language at that, at that time, 1996 to 98. Gary was the co-author
along with me and Kyle Jemison who was
the head at ERS. Well during the primary in
New Hampshire right after this report came out
somebody pointed out to then candidate Bush how
high the levels of food insecurity and hunger
were in Texas and his response wasn’t
too constructive. Now I don’t know if this
was good politics or bad politics but it wasn’t
real good for popularity of USDA’s Food Security
Measurement Project when Mr. Bush became President. I’m not sure how much of
our struggle over the 2000 data was related to that
and maybe to other things going on in the
government. I was pretty junior so I’m
sure I wasn’t getting told everything, but I was given
to know by then Division Director Betsy Kuhn that, that there was some
upset out there in the appropriation side and the
halls of Congress that they were picking up on
societal events and so on… (Indistinct)… and the administrator that I,
I kind of picked up the idea that they were a
little afraid of it this might, you know, anyhow
bad implications with the whole organization or at
least in the budget and so they wanted to fatten up
the report a little bit. Couldn’t we put some
other stuff in there? Could this be a report on
well being and then food insecurity is in there and
we looked at possibilities and eventually
came up with the, the solution that we need
to keep it focused on food and the food security
stuff should be in there but then we’ll add in food
spending because we had data on that and kind of
make some ties there and then food assistance
programs and how those relate to food security
and so that’s when the, when the report went from
that thick to that thick and it more or less took on
its current form. And it was partly to
provide some, some, some cover I’d guess you’d
say, political cover. But I think it was also
to just delay the whole process until after the
appropriations and all that stuff so that
eventually that got published. And we got,
whew, through that part. I think now the measure is
well enough established it would be politically very
hard to get rid of it but you never know so a
cautionary tale from that “Perilous Passage”. Thank you, there are a
couple of questions that many members of the
audience may have in common that I’m going to
pose to the panel before taking on more
individual Q and A’s. So for whoever wants to
answer we can just pass the mic along. What was the biggest
challenge that you faced? I think the
biggest challenge, the biggest challenge
that we faced, the two sort of
related ones. One is that it was very
difficult to convince policymakers and the
broader public that hunger was a major problem but
even more that it could be measured. We, we will, I will, we
went to foundations which will go unnamed who told
us that it couldn’t be measured and they weren’t
interested in spending any money to help us do that
and there also were academics who actually
said don’t even bother it can’t be measured and I
remember Cheryl Wehler coming out of one of those
meetings almost in tears because of the, the
inability of these folks to have the vision to
see that this could be something that would
be able to work. And finally the financial. FRAC ultimately raised
three million dollars in the 19, the early 1980s so
that was a heck of a lot of money. You think it’s a lot of
money now but it was even more then which paid for
our work as well as all the work of all the groups
across the country and we finally, corporate
foundations like Kraft and American Can Company were
the ones who really helped us get things started. So that, and the
capacity, we, we had, we had never done anything
like this before and our anti-hunger groups at the local level
had never done anything like this before so we
had to build with Cheryl, and others, our technical
advisor committee’s help we had to build a whole
cadre of folks across the country who for the
first time were, were doing survey
research in communities. So I’d like to piggy back
on what Lynn said related to can you measure this
and it speaks to the academic part of this. In academia we tend to
live in disciplinary silos or strict
disciplinary boundaries. At Cornell one of the
things we say about our nutrition department is
we study nutrition as an integrating discipline. We integrate across
a lot of disciplines. Radimer’s initial work
springs from a rich tradition in sociology
that you can know something by observing it
very closely, from talking to people who have the
experience of it, and then objectively analyzing
the narrative and the observations that
come from that. That’s a new way of
looking at the world for people in disciplines of
economics and some of the more quantitative
disciplines. So it’s totally
understandable how people were skeptical of an
experientially based measure, direct measure
of the phenomenon, phenomena of hunger and
food insecurity but I think Radimer showed
that this can be done. And so that was a
challenge but I think also a contribution and it’s
something we all should remember that we bring the
biases of our discipline to the things that we
study and we have to be open to other paradigms
and other perspectives on some of these issues. I just want to amplify on
Mark’s last point as well because I think the
biggest challenge for us in the federal government
was trying to systematize all of this over the last
20 years with the, there were innumerable
steps where only one person had to
say “no, stop, don’t do it” and
it would stop. Appropriators could put
language in the annual Appropriation Bill that
prevents the use of funding for this. The folks at The Office of
Management and Budget can deny clearance with a
paperwork burden to actually put in the CPS. The folks at the Census
Bureau could have said, “this goes beyond what we
feel comfortable with. We don’t want to use up
our supplement time for this.” All of our old bosses
could have said I’m uncomfortable
with it I don’t, I don’t want you to spend
any more time on it and it would have been done. I mean it’s truly quite
remarkable that over the course of this whole
history especially… (Indistinct)… that even though we got
a lot of resistance, a lot of pushback,
you know, there was conflict and all
of that no one got to the point where they said
stop, don’t do it. I wanted to say something
quick because it was one of these things, I’m wondering ‘how in the
heck did this happen?’ So this was when Catherine
Bertini was in her position of? She used to be like Kevin, the Undersecretary
…Undersecretary. Catherine was from
Cortland, New York which is 20 miles north of Ithaca.
And when she got her position, her family that
runs a funeral home, ran a funeral home in
Cortland at the time had a reception and as the
Assistant Dean for Research and Graduate Studies… in the College of Human Ecology. I was invited, the Dean
was invited and blah, blah, blah. As, possibly as a result
of that. Out of the clear blue sky I get a call from
one of her assistants, Sue Ann Richco that did I
want, with one of my other colleagues Cathy Campbell,
come and meet with Catherine Bertini and talk
to her about hunger and food insecurity. I was a nutrition
professor as Cornell I should know something
about this. We went, we talked, it was
all very pleasant but I hoped maybe that possibly
that had something to do with her not being
one of the people who said no along the way. Another question is did
you think that the measure would have the acceptance
and significance that it has today? No. (Laughter) I’m
actually good at, the second question was the
greatest achievement and I don’t want to, I don’t
want to, you know, forget about this,
what I thought about. I don’t think I ever
though much about how much it would be significant
but anyway and this isn’t, this isn’t a personal
achievement but I think one of the things that
made the measure as significant as it is
was the finding the institutional home at ERS. The, one of the, this,
this statistical model underlying it every
now and then in my skeptical moments I say
the greatest contribution that is what made it
complicated enough that he had to put it
in an agency… with economists and
sociologists, to manage it otherwise if it was just a
couple of questions it would have been so simple
it wouldn’t have had an institutional home but housing
is it at a place that has the political
protection of a statistical agency and the
expertise across at least three disciplines,
at least nutrition, sociology and economics,
probably a few others thrown in I think really,
there was a lot going on there that doesn’t come
out on the surface but the fact that we were able to
provide technical support to researchers across the
country in counties and state offices and
nonprofits doing research in academic, academic
departments doing research that, that, that
ERS was seen as that home of The Measure, where you
could get authoritative information on how to use
it and how to analyze the data and so on, I think
that was an important achievement of
the organization. Yeah, that’s a good,
that’s a good question because it really,
is this on?. Yes. Because it really was like
threading a whole bunch of needles and each needle
was a new obstacle, the challenge of getting
through all of those. Let me mention just
a couple instances. One of the places that had
to give approval was The Office of the Statistician
of the United States. I didn’t even know
there was such a thing. (Laughter) But it
had to be approved. Now up until this time
Steve had left the technical jargon and
explanation largely in the “Feisty Group’s” hands but
at this point he nearly had to make that
presentation, “The Statistician of the United
States”, so he called me in and asked me to give him a
step by step tutorial and he was a good study so he
really had it down and we were at the meeting of
course but none of us were saying anything. Steve did a masterful job
of laying out what the measurement was and its
technical basis to a statistician. Now I’ll mention one
more because Bob Dalrymple who is here would, was
instrumental in getting us through this group. It was when we were, I
mentioned earlier that Bruce Klein, an old labor
economist, was aware of a monthly supplement to The
Current Population Survey, that none of the rest of us
were so he put us onto that and we started
working with people at the at an agency of the
Census Bureau, Center for Survey Method Research,
something like that and going out to a lot of
meetings and they had, the guy that ran it, a Bob
somebody was a sort of a good old boy bureaucrat. We got along just fine
with him but they had a, a high powered
academic advisor… Eleanor Singer. Eleanor Singer who was a
survey methods expert and so she knew how this
should be done including changing the wording of
the questions and we said, “Eleanor, you can’t change,
we can’t change the wording because that is
part of this experiential knowledge base”, I mean
that’s the essence of the thing. So she just didn’t get it
except she did but in an amazing way. Well, I mentioned
Bob, Bob Green, he went to bat with us
there at The Census Bureau Center for Survey Method
Research and I think he made a very big difference
but Eleanor Singer was changed by this
experience not openly but unconsciously. She told us one day of a
dream that she had. The dream was one in which
she had set up a fancy dinner party all the
guests were invited, everything was prepared
except at the last moment she realized she hadn’t
gotten any food. (Laughter) Do any of the
panelists have any final thoughts before we open
it up to Q and A on the greatest achievement of
you or your organization or did you anticipate
the acceptance and significance, anticipate
the acceptance and significance of… of the food security measure? I just want to follow up
on Gary on the Census Bureau issue because it,
it really was quite an obstacle to overcome and I
think in The Census Bureau with Ron Tucker and… Chuck Nelson in the Demographics
Division who had the experience to know that
these kind of survey methodology issues come
all the time and they were able to carry us
forward because at, at FNS we’d been
experiencing years of hearing this and thought
it was about to fall apart. For the greatest
achievement I have to go with FNS for having the
integrity to stand up to the, to all of the
possibilities that this could turn out to be a
measure that would be used against Food Assistance
Programs showing that they were ineffective and I
think it took a lot of courage for them to push
forward without having the evidence in advance that
it was going serve the Food Assistance Program. Great, thank
you very much. Let’s, there is a microphone
available in the audience. Where is that located? And if you have a question
just indicate that to the people who have the mobile
microphone and if you would announce your name
and your institution affiliation. We don’t, should we pass
that microphone around? No that’s okay. If, Todd if you just want
to come up here or just stand up at your seat. I think this question will
be for Mark for the or, possibly for the entire panel. In the mid-2000s when
the food security, when hunger stopped being, the word
hunger stopped being used… Maybe it’s not such a place you want
to go back and revisit Mark. But since you’re now
retired and starting to speak a little more openly
about it, why, you know, politics of this stuff.
Very low food security doesn’t convey
the same kind of, it doesn’t have the same
visceral meaning of, of hunger. You
know and I think, you know everybody in
this room, you know, we’re all involved in
research in some, some capacity but even on
the, on the 18 questions, you know. I mean hunger is used
as one of the questions, you know? You can’t really talk to
people in, about this, about, talking
about it as hunger. So maybe you could give
us some background on, on that. That probably needs
a section by itself. (Laughter) Probably
most of you know I was branded on national TV as
the worst person in the world when the word hunger
was dropped out of the Measure of Food Insecurity
in the US and of course when, I was the lead
author of the report, I was interviewed and so
on, so it was okay that they piled it on my head. I’d have to thank ERS for
not throwing me under the bus for that whole thing.
But of course unbeknownst to them I had fought
against this change all the way through the
process and saying with we’re asking about hunger
it’s not an unreasonable terminology but there
was a lot of, both, I think both within USDA
and between OMB and USDA some uneasiness with using a
word of that much power that has different meanings
for different people in connection with this
measure and so what do you do when you have this kind
of a scientific question that can’t be resolved
between agencies and within agencies? In the government, you throw
it to the National Academies which is, they’re not, nothing
in Washington is completely unpolitical but
the most unpolitical is the National Academies and
so they called this panel and they, they did so on. You should get somebody
that was on that panel to talk about why they came
down where they did. But one of the recommendations
was that we should probably, it would be most
useful to conceptualize hunger as an individual,
physiological thing and food insecurity as a
social economic condition. And that if you want
to talk about hunger, you should measure it as that
physiological condition therefore you could
study the relationship between the two which you can’t do if you consider a measure of
hunger as a measure of food insecurity. Okay, so once The National
Academy has weighed in on this I, my recommendation
to ERS, USDA was, you know, you asked them
to make recommendations they make recommendations,
you have to have a really strong reason to not go
there so we better make a change. The specific language
chosen wouldn’t have been my choice but even
though I was the one that brought it as one of the
many options to be being considered I thought it
was going to just be rejected but… (Laughter) But there
weren’t really any better alternatives either, there
were no good choices to be made. It, it, it probably should
be noted that every other country in the
world that has done, either has integrated
this measure as a, as part of their
statistical system, there are four other countries
besides the US or that has done major national
surveys with it they’ve all ended up dropping
“hunger” out of their labeling and this was done
independently of the fact that the US did it. It seems like the word
has too many different meanings to too many
different people or something so we’re not
at least the outlier on that. I still regret
it at times but anyway that’s the way it went. I have one side, one side
note to that whole thing because it was a big
part in my life too. (Laughter) but I was grateful you
were the public face of this… (Laughter)… but the one thing I want
to highlight in all this is that truth be told
this was not a political decision. I was the one who was
presenting all those alternatives to
Undersecretary Eric Bostick at that time and
frankly he didn’t care. I don’t think we spent
more than 10 minutes talking about this issue. The issue of what
the label was, was never a
problem for him. None of the political
officials at that time weighed in with me
on, on all this. This is an issue we
brought on ourselves as career staff. We are the ones that asked
The National Academy to review what we were doing. I don’t recall that we
asked them to review specifically the labels. They on their own accord
came up with that stuff. We included that in
a vague sort of way. Yeah. I agree. But the argument that both
Mark and I were making, is well once you ask these
experts to weigh in and make a recommendation, you
are sort of stuck with what they recommend. I, if I had one regret it
probably would be that I didn’t push harder with
Eric in those days to say let’s, let’s just say “no”. Let’s keep what we’ve got
because it does speak but the only thing I want
to do in defense of the process is, is to
emphasize that it was not a political decision. This was really made at
the career level as a result of the request we
made to The Academy at least from the
FNS perspective. Okay. You know the terminology
is powerful and hunger is a dynamite word. I have in my files a
cartoon from the day of a very disheveled working
family, very beat down and living
in a hovel with paint peeling off the walls and an aggressive
interviewer is pushing a microphone at them. “Yes, you’re unemployed and
below the poverty line but are you hungry?” That was the
political thing. I want to give
another example. The second research
contract, Abt, Chris Hamilton bring, bringing in
the whole concept of Rasch measurement was really
splendid but we gave the second contract to MPR. Abt and MPR were big rivals.
They did the same thing. It’s so much better to
have your main rival being a part of the thing
rather than being outside snipping at you. So we gave the second
contract to MPR and Tom Fraker was an employee
at that time at MPR and writing up their stuff I
simply told Tom you’ve got to do it this way. I, I know it rankled him. but you got to do it. In your write up do, do
not use any probabilistic language. Well the Rasch measurement
is a probabilistic measure. It doesn’t fit
individuals as such. It just locates where they are
in a probability sense along the scale. But I had previously
worked on a Senate Sub-committee on employment,
poverty and migratory labor and I knew about
those people, you know, committee staff and not
to mention the members. He used the word
“probability”, bingo, they’re totally, you know,
they will totally discount it, set it aside. they can’t deal with it. Do we have time for
another question from the floor? I think that’s testimony
to the thoughtfulness and thoroughness with which
the panelists have addressed their charge
taking us back to, to the, the beginning… 1320
01:06:26,816