Jean Komaiko and Dr. Quentin Young discuss hunger in Chicago
BROADCAST: Feb. 6, 1969 | DURATION: 00:55:31
Discussing hunger in Chicago and interviewing Jean Komaiko and Dr. Quentin Young.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Alright, one of our guests this morning is a doctor, we'll come to that, not the doctor that Mike and Elaine talk about in their remarkable dissertation on medicine. Much has happened in medicine -- hunger too. The theme this morning is hunger. Our two guests are Dr. Quentin Young, who is past president of the Medical Committee for Human Rights and is now adviser for the student division of the A.M.A. which is rather fascinating. Isn't that what it is, Dr. Young?
Studs Terkel And Jean Komaiko who has been a freelance writer in Chicago and has been involved, too, as a volunteer teacher in the black ghetto schools. But the theme -- education is part of it, education for everyone -- the theme is hunger. And the hunger we're talking about it's not the hunger that is in a distant land, not the hunger quite patently in India or Latin America, Asia. The hunger, nor in Mississippi, where it is, but here, right now, in Chicago. And perhaps we hear several of the mothers on welfare who were guests on this program before. We'll tune into their voices as they talk about diet.
Female Speaker 1 You're not allowed to eat dry cereal. Only cooked cereal like [corn bush?] [laughter?], rolled oats, and something like that. I mean, you're not [here? care?] to eat corn flakes or Cheerios, you know--
Female Speaker 2 And then you wonder, you hear people say that welfare recipients are shiftless and lazy, they have no get up and go. When they feed you everything that makes you want to sit down and rest. You stay tired, your energy is run down, your your physical condition is in -- you're you're not in a good physical condition. You can never be well and feel like doing a good job, at anything you do, because you must have a proper diet to have a a a good body functions, you know. And yet, and then the jobs they send you out on call for manpower. You have to be able to do the work. And a person who doesn't feel good, they can't concentrate at home, they can't take care of their children properly. The mother's nagging and she's upset all the time and her children are frustrated. That leads into problems with school and running away from home and all this kind of jazz. When the department puts you in this -- it keeps you in a system where you're depressed. And there's no way to pull out of it. They won't even give you a chance. And it starts from food, clothing, rent, everything ties right in with depression and just keeps you right there. Yet they want to know why we don't pull out. Why don't they give us a chance? Give us a wholesome, decent diet. Meanwhile in my condition, I'm supposed to have a special diet. The doctor told me eat plenty of meats. What meats? Neck bones, I'm tired of neck bones, pig feet, you know, and stuff like that. That's not meat -- fatback -- that's not meat that you eat to lose weight, you know.
Female Speaker 2 [Right?]
Female Speaker 1 [unintelligible]
Female Speaker 2 So now we can splurge a little bit and maybe get a little extra beans or something. And we're allowed 22 cents, maybe 22 and a third now they raised it, per meal per person in our family and this is to prepare a meal, say, for a family of four--
Studs Terkel And thus we hear, casually, women talking [about five?] 22 cents, is the allowance a meal by -- to families on public aid, 22 cents a person. Thus talking about diet. Where do we begin, Dr. Young? As you listen to these voi- I know this is familiar to you.
Dr. Quentin Young There's no question that you're hearing as vivid a clinical description of the syndrome of hunger and nu- nutritional deficiency, to put a little fancier, as you could get. That was a very moving passage, but unfortunately these ladies, however articulate, are not exceptional. It's clear that in this country, which is prepared to spend three and a half billion dollars a year to suppress the production of food has not yet found the billion a year it appears to be necessary to bring--
Dr. Quentin Young Yes. And it disturbs me that such worthies as Senator Eastland draws, I'm told, 160,000 a year not to produce food on his plantations, but the point is that one billion dollars at current prices as suggested would meet the nutritional deficiencies of the millions of people in our welfare system and out of it, who today are condemned to the kind of health, or perhaps illness is a better word, that this lady describes.
Studs Terkel We'll keep this open, the matter of hunger itself that you see every day in the clinic and where you are and Jean Komaiko, you yourself, how you came about to recognize this in the city in which you live. You yourself, Jean, how this came about?
Jean Komaiko I was helping out in a second grade classroom one day, and midway in the morning milk came in and was sold to the children. And it's federal subsidized milk which was sold for four cents. Children in the ghetto who have four cents drink the milk, those who don't have the money watch. I found in collecting the money that some of the children were cheating and lying because the need for milk was so desperate that they resorted to anything to get it. So I determined that at that point the volunteers in the schools should go out in the community and raise enough money for one school for one year, which we did. But it's one school and one year, and this doesn't begin to answer the needs of the greater community in the nation.
Studs Terkel Even so that's a question of people voluntarily raising it. That, by its very nature itself indicates something is lacking as far as as far as the government, as far as the municipality is concerned, doesn't it?
Dr. Quentin Young I I got to know of Jean when a letter she had written came across my desk, and it had so much passion that I immediately got in touch with her. And I'm certain that the outrage that she feels were were transmitted to the rest of the population and the absolute ob- obscenity of underfeeding, even starving, youngsters in our society would come to a rapid end. I I don't know, but maybe we could convince her to [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel I think perhaps Jean should read part of this letter, certain fragments from it and her feelings and what she saw. It has specifics, too. And then, perhaps, Dr. Young, Quentin Young, talk about the nature of hunger itself, and also the other aspects that are in Jean Komaiko's letter. And you wrote that to the Board of Education?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Jean Komaiko [reading] "I hate to say this, but I think all of you are committing an act of monumental shame. You are mu- punishing innocent kids, the victims of this society. You are breeding a new generation of haters and burners. Have you stopped to think what it means to take a poverty oath to get some food in a society where everyone else is counting calories? Taking Metrecal, feeding their dogs handsomely. Well, I'll tell you a little what it is like, because I am working in a Lawndale school, and we're seeing the ravages of hunger and the degradation of the whole welfare system. We get 150 free lunches for 850 kids. Our staff estimate that 500 of those kids need that lunch. We also discovered that milk is sold mid-morning for four cents. It is sold in Skokie for two cents, both under the federal subsidy. In the ghetto the kids who have the money drink, those who don't watch. Senator McGovern's Committee on Hunger is coming to Chicago. And a number of us are going to testify about conditions here. The conditions are downright shocking, and that I fe- I feel that all of you play a role in this. It's not enough to just qualify with Mr. Page or Mr. Swank. It's time you stand up on your feet and scream, demand, order, command. My God, kids are hungry. Hungry in this: the richest nation on earth. This, the nation that feeds half the globe. At what point do we finally say, 'Yes, we believe in kids.' We don't give a damn if a few middle class ones sneak under the wire free. In ghetto schools all kids should have morning milk and free hot lunches. For many this is all the food there is during a day. It's a laugh talking about reading programs and all the rest. When kids are poorly nourished, when they must sing and sign for their suppers the desire to learn is lost. No wonder is- there is so much hopelessness in our society."
Studs Terkel Well of course, Jean, this is just a fragment of a very passionate and eloquent letter that Jean Komaiko wrote to the Board. But there's so much - where do we begin in just taking and analyzing some aspects of it? Quentin Young, the poverty oath -- I wasn't quite -- There's a double poverty oath now, isn't there?
Dr. Quentin Young They have to indicate whether or not they're on welfare. It it's almost like a Brechtian satire, what our society is prepared to do to keep something between food and children. Another important aspect, clinically speaking, is the problem of nutrition of the pregnant mother. There are a number of zealous, crusading obstetricians who are deeply concerned on the impact on the forming child of under-nutrition during the child gestation period. A very serious problem and, of course, that puts limitations on the protoplasm of that child that the society will have to live with, and the child of course, live with for his whole life.
Jean Komaiko Apropos of that I've been working with a young pediatrician on this, and he feels that there is a great deal of hyp- hypoglycemia in the schools. In other words, children simply come to the end of their sugar, as he puts it, by the end of the morning and the result of hypoglycemia, the symptoms are anger, and restlessness, and the very things that those of us who are working with these children are faced with constantly.
Dr. Quentin Young I'm certain that there's much to be learned. We tend to deal with these behavior problems in terms of real social difficulties, and I'm sure they play a role, but the substrate, the individual upon, in which they're operating, if undernourished, or as Jean points out if, starving for sugar.
Jean Komaiko Hypoglycemia.
Studs Terkel At the very beginning one of the voices we heard when the welfare mother, Mrs. Thurman, was talking about how low you feel, you don't feel like doing anything. And, thus, the editorial in a morning paper would say, "these lazy people".
Studs Terkel And so we come back to this theme. If we could use Mrs. Komaiko's letter for a moment as the jumping off point and go on from there. "The poverty oath is a double oath now." That is that is the the parent must take it twice, is that the idea? For a child to get a a meal at school?
Dr. Quentin Young Well, the new thing that I'm aware of is that in their infinite wisdom they have added, without any federal requirement, to the form that the parents must fill out to get this meal, this free hot lunch at school -- fill me in.
Jean Komaiko In all fairness, I think that the orders that came from Washington were meant in good faith. It was to try to do away with the discrimination against the child who who was on relief because heretofore the child on relief at lunch was getting chocolate milk and the other children were getting white milk, and they were trying to do away with this. But as it sifts through the state and the board and into the local school, you get the system is not the way the original directive is intended. And instead of extending the number of children, I think it's going to end up restricting them.
Studs Terkel Yeah. The reason I asked that question is a number of the women mentioned the fact that some of the kids are so ashamed, you know. That they will even turn down what may be their only full meal at school because they're immediately classified--
Dr. Quentin Young Sure.
Dr. Quentin Young Studs, I've got one that I didn't believe but I know it's true because I've checked it. In some of the schools, for ease, the free lunch kids go through the line with a sign on them saying "free lunch". And this phenomenon you mentioned--
Dr. Quentin Young The sign says "free lunch". It makes it easy through the cafeteria. Some parents, and I guess some kids, just go without rather than have that special kind of humiliation. I I think we're almost at the time when maybe we should just give free lunches in -- across the board.
Studs Terkel There's a point in Jean Komaiko's letter saying, so what if a couple of kids who have more money than, say, a relief parent should have, you know, get free meals. So what, is what you're saying.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Jean Komaiko Well, it seems to many of us working with these children that in a school such as I am in, where the great majority of kids need this nutrition, that all schools in the impacted areas should be given free breakfast and free lunches. Because even by raising welfare payments there is a possibility that these children will not get proper nourishment at home, and at least by giving two meals a day we could guarantee that they were getting adequate nourishment regardless of what the standards are.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Quent- Dr. Young, Mrs. Komaiko, this matter of not getting enough at home. The parents, again, these ladies were speaking about, sometimes because of the budget. 22 cents and everything. So there's nothing for breakfast. They skip the breakfast. Sometimes, by the way, many kids sleep late. As you know, many people who have little food, often grownups, sleep late so they only eat one meal a day or two meals a day, see, to beat the hunger. So they don't get the breakfast at all and at at night sometimes just popcorn to fill the stomach but -- So it's the school meal.
Jean Komaiko Well, we have seen, since the milk program has gone in, far less exhaustion among the children. That shot of milk in the morning is enough to carry many of them through now, and we take some encouragement from this. We're also interested in the fact that tardiness has almost been reduced to zero because the milk, sad as it may be, is enough motivation to get children to school on time.
Dr. Quentin Young You know, it's remarkable. We're having this discussion and think somebody tuning into this tape I hope not too many years from now will say, were they crazy, were they absolutely nuts?
Studs Terkel They also, as we're talking now, perha- again, let's keep it free as far as association is concerned, and thoughts. As we're talking now, this is incredible, as as Jean says in her letter, people worry, so many, about overeating and about losing weight and in the midst, we're talking now about Chicago. We're not talking about Sunflower County, Mississippi or about Calcutta. And here here it is. You mentioned something, Jean, in your letter rather interesting. Milk in Skokie is two cents and in the ghetto four cents?
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Dr. Quentin Young That's a model. It's common knowledge that costs even in chain store supermarkets in the ghetto are substantially higher than their identical products by a sister store in a suburban or upper class area. This kind of double penalizing at the level of food is very serious. I was reading some of the statistics, you know, the per meal allowances and all that, and there's one particularly ironic footnote that the calculations didn't included four percent for the sales tax. So that there, there's a penalty added even to these food allowances, which incidentally are not even, what did you say, 22 cents across the board? They vary. It's fourteen and a half cents, at least the figures I'm acquainted with, up till five years per meal per-- And then it gets up to about 25, for an elderly sick person, cents. It's felt that with fairly good planning a capable homemaker -- is that what they're called? -- could turn out meals that were safe and from the nutritional viewpoint at the 30, 35, 40 cent level per meal. So you're taking a very very hard cut in in something that's not remediable, you know. If you don't if you don't get the right things happening to you as you're growing up, the very best that happens to you after will not make up for those, some of those deficiencies.
Studs Terkel As we're talking, the subject is hunger. Hunger in the year 1968 in Chicago. And are we talking now about something that is happening in rare instances? This is the question. I know the program [came about] because Dr. Young received Jean Komaiko's letter, and also you were saying from your own observations and that of your colleagues--
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Dr. Quentin Young One of the many incredible and unconscionable things has been the the silence and even the actual resistance of professional organizations to this unspeakable situation. Naturally, in the welfare system to get these amazingly low allowances through they had to be defended. And when some few voices were raised against the self-evident penury here somehow or other the authorities found those other authorities in nutrition to point out how you could do it. A cynic has suggested that a Ph.D. in nutrition working full-time at it and traveling from store to store, and with a wise knowledge of how to store food, and a good freezer locker might possibly make it over the years with this allowance. But that isn't the characteristic of the average ghetto dweller.
Studs Terkel Or the average middle-class housewife, too. Jean, your own observations? You know, Dr. Young raised this question of some Home Economics major doing it, and now and then in the papers we see cases, you know, a human interest story of some young middle-class family trying to make it. Invariably, the stories are pretty good.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Studs Terkel Your own observations as you were volunteer teaching in your your classes there, seeing the effects of this? I suppose you've seen it specifically in some of the young people some of the students, haven't you, you yourself?
Jean Komaiko I've seen a great deal of restlessness and considerable anger. And I -- most of the volunteers I work with travel with some candy to give these kids a quick jack in the middle of the morning. People who've worked with the children longer than I have have seen children collapse, they've seen them so fatigued that they sleep a good part of the morning. I've visited high schools in the city where I've seen 3, 4 children in a class sleeping. There can be other causes for this but I think it's pretty generally agreed that hunger is very pervasive. And incidentally the -- one of the things that concerns me about the strict requirements for -- under the National School Lunch Act, is that families who are under the $3,000 level are one thing but there are many people just over the line whose children simply do not get enough to eat either. So, although they don't qualify under any of the programs we now have, there is a good deal of hunger here too. And I think it behooves us to have a little generosity and realize where you're spending 20 cents a meal. A child who wants desperately to go to a movie that's shown at school who must pay 10 cents for that movie, the the whole food budget is thrown off. And what we're asking i- we're penalizing children for our very puritanical standards.
Dr. Quentin Young You know, I think one of the most important points, we could spend a lot of time on it, you made in your letter and just threw it away, in a wa- a sense, is the fact that our society says such an ostentatious affluence. You know, if you can stand it and look at the television screen for an hour or two you'll just see such enormously attractive food succulently prepared. So in a sense this denial--
Jean Komaiko Oh yeah. But the the comparison with Calcutta is important here. Whatever else is true of Calcutta, that nobody is waving food in your face right in your very home. And what -- you know, we can only begin to understand what this must do psychologically to the forming child. There it is all up on the screen, you know, made as attractive and good-tasting as only high-powered television commercials can. And then there's the neck bones on on on the on the plate. It's pretty -- it's a form of torture, you know?
Studs Terkel Let let's just dwell on this a bit further. The point that Dr. Young just made, Jean, this nutty paradox, the horror, as a matter of fact, frustration. Because TV is everywhere. Everybody has TV and the commercials, of course, do dominate.
Dr. Quentin Young Exactly.
Jean Komaiko It can be a force for great good. Every child I know has seen Peter Pan on television whether they can read, not read. Peter Pan is part of the literature. So are all the frustrations built in to our society.
Studs Terkel But [unintelligible], let's go further in analyzing, if we may, this mass medium with which I'm acquainted, all of us are -- I as a quondam performer, is the fact that it isn't sex, it isn't violence, both there, sex is the object, but it is mostly food. It is food that dominates TV, if you analyze the commercials -- cigarettes perhaps, detergents, deodorants, but food primarily. And we're talking about food as seen on the screen in a ghetto home where the allowance is 22 cents a meal. And so we come, something must happen then. What have you observed, Quentin?
Dr. Quentin Young Well, most of the social psychology I'm acquainted with that deals with movements and postures of populations explain, and I think very credibly, that people will move militantly for their rights, and I certainly welcome that, when there are rising expectations which aren't met. And it's almost a classic experiment of temptation and denial that we do with our powerful media and our denial at the table, if you can stand the figure of speech. I believe that a great, great deal of the unrest that everybody is biting their nails about resides in this fact, and my proposal is not to feed them to calm the emerging demands for full equality of the black people -- far from it. Indeed I hope they get enough to eat so they'll have good fighting strength to bring the American reality to their lives. I mean the good American reality. [laughter] But I I believe that this is, you know, maybe deserves a lot of attention on several levels, decent research. But, of course, when all is said and done it seems to me the attention it needs is to have a timetable that probably would have no longer than 1969, to guarantee every American a decent diet. It just -- I can't find the justification for it. It takes a certain sadism to have any other position.
Studs Terkel You know, the theme of this conversation with Dr. Quentin Young, past President of the Medical Committee for Human Rights -- should ask about that, too, and perhaps the role of young medical students and new doctors, too, is a rather interesting developments with which Dr. Young is involved. And Jean Komaiko, freelance writer and for a time was a teacher in the black ghetto school. The theme is hunger right here in in Chicago and we'll return to it in a moment after we pause [pause in recording]. If we could pick up with Dr. Quentin Young and Jean Komaiko on this theme of ghetto schools. Of course, this applies, I'm sure, to Appalachian schools and Uptown, too, to the Appalachian kids I'm sure, too.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Jean Komaiko There were new figures issued last night in the paper about many of the Chicago suburbs with very high incidence of poverty. And I have a letter from a South Side lady, which I thought maybe would, a paragraph would interest you, in which she says, "I would like to see whole schools designated as breakfast schools. The list could almost coincide with the impacted areas designated by Congress last year. But this is just my feeling on the matter. Such a plan would relieve children of the degrading burden of proving their own poverty. And if a few kids are above the line got breakfast, so what? Plenty of nice middle-class homes send their kids to school on a glass of juice."
Dr. Quentin Young No question about it. And I think that this is a top priority for concerned people, both within the profession and without, to do everything possible in terms of mobilizing their own professions and public opinion this year. I think it's the sort of thing that can be done where many other equally oppressive social needs are [unintelligible]--
Studs Terkel Let's deal on Jean's point for a moment, this new point, that over and beyond ghetto schools, that if something -- if there is a neglect there. Perhaps this is, it might be even standpoint of if for no other appeal, self-preservation. If if there's a neglect in the ghetto it probably spreads elsewhere, too. Now in in suburban schools you will find here, too, this neglect.
Jean Komaiko "The newest figures show that despite the unprecedent affluence that characterizes suburbia, one of every 14 families in DuPage County exists on a sub-poverty income," according to the figures released by the County's Human Relations Advisory Committee. Very much the same picture is true in Naperville, in Hinsdale, in Wheaton, and in a number of other places.
Dr. Quentin Young Very impressive suburbs to have substandard meal- and I'm not at all surprised. This incidentally is beyond the problem as it in the past has been defined of just bad nutritional practices, where the lack of affluence was not the crucial thing. I think there's, you know, within this whole framework, the whole role of health education, understanding nutrition, is part of understanding yourself is very important, but obviously the priority is to is to give the wherewithal and the food to guarantee this.
Jean Komaiko And I think poverty is very deceiving. I know that in the book "The Other America", it was so well illustrated that many people who are desperately poor put everything they have into appearances so that they look well and you can't -- I think hunger is too often hidden. And I might add hidden by -- pushed under the rug by almost everybody. Nobody really wants to take a look at how ugly this is.
Studs Terkel At this moment I'm working on a project dealing with the Depression in America. And this is rather interesting. Something came to my mind as Dr. Young and Jean Komaiko were talking, and hunger and the hiding of it. Now there, some try, but there was fainting in the streets or passing out on street cars then, taken to the hospital. Doctors immediately knew the guy was hungry, starved, passed out. But now it's more and more hidden. Has become just as the ghetto itself is more and more hidden, laid away from the suburbs thanks to transportation, superhighways. So, the aspect of hunger becomes even even more hidden than it was in in the deep depths of the Depression.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah. I'm moved to quote Jack Geiger, a former Chicagoan and science writer incidentally who has since become a physician and an important person in American public health life. Very sensitive on these issues. He's developed community health projects in poverty areas, both in Boston and in Mississippi. And Jack put it very simply. He said the treatment for hunger is food. It's a truism, to be sure. But under-nutrition probably could be identified as the most rampant disease even in our society, numerically. And in terms of its imprint on, again, the unborn child or the growing child, has a whole host of implications to health conditions of the adult. Vulnerabilities, if you please, to all of the maladies that man is heir to whether we're talking about premature senility or ease of getting infections and difficulty of getting rid of them. All that's built into the germplasm, in a certain sense, and that germplasm in turn is conditional on how it developed in utero and in the developmental years. So, there's a special kind of penalty imposed upon the humans that are forced to undergo starvation during their period of gestation and newborn growth. Jean?
Jean Komaiko Oh, I heard a nurse the other night describing something which she felt was a very interesting phenomenon. Children in the Audy Home, who are fed on this same 20 cents a day diet, and it's a heavily carbohydrate-low protein diet, when they get the common cold can run temperatures as high as 104 and 105 degrees.
Studs Terkel You know, several things come up. Remind me to ask about this question of a of low protein diet, Dr. Young. But this one moment you mentioned Audy Home and suddenly you start think- Audy Home was a home for runaways, for delinquent under-age young people. That the aspect of punishment, suddenly it occurred to me: punishment, the puritanical act of punishing somebody, whether it be the 22 cent meal for the ghetto dweller or for the kid in the Audy Home.
Dr. Quentin Young Mhm.
Jean Komaiko Well, the whole thing that runs through our society, it seems to me, is a punitive feeling, that nobody should have something for nothing and that I made it and so should you. And there were hearings the other day in Springfield that which a legislator walked out, stormed out and he said, "well of course people can live on 25 cents a day. I did". And he looked at his shoes and he said, "now I'm wearing 150 dollar shoes". And then he looked again and he said, "no, I'm sorry, they're 160 dollars". It's the insensitivity and the--
Studs Terkel Yeah, now come to this matter of -- therefore, they can -- again we return to this depression, very often you find this, too. Someone says, I made it and I wish they knew what it was. Why can't they? Coming back to the whole idea of, there's this punitive aspect through it. In this, earlier Dr. Young mentioned a Brechtian quality in the play "The Little Mahagonny". The crime is to be poor and you're killed. You pay the penalty if you are poor. And so we have also a Mahagonny situation here, particularly with this legislator you were talking about. So, come back to -- even more clinical things, you were talking about the pregnant woman and what happens and--
Dr. Quentin Young Well, there's a -- I indicated, a growing host of literature that is terribly convincing about the impact of under-nutrition and the incidence of congenital defects. Some of them quite serious. As is always in this line of research the most obvious stuff will, you know, the congenital deafness or blindness or what have you, will will be identified to be statistically more significant. My own guess is that from the social viewpoint far more important is the less obvious: the person who's just constitutionally inferior, the person whose brain cells aren't going to be able to meet the demands of modern life. And this is a kind of ultimate punishment that we're almost eugenically, or counter-eugenically creating for our poor. It really has a bestial quality when we talk about the kind of affluence we have and the remedy is so near at hand. Geiger's right. The treatment of hunger is food. I really hope that the kind of elementary implications of this will overcome what is a good deal of derangement in contemporary social thought about the welfare system and all the rest. And that we can, whatever else is true, convince our society to feed everybody, just for openers.
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Jean Komaiko Because food is the basic thing and it signifies love and well-being, and without food children don't trust. And if they don't trust they can't learn. And if they can't learn they can't be a part of this very complex society.
Dr. Quentin Young And if we're talking about society's penalties and the dollar and cents thing, I guess one must point out the enormous cost in the field of, say, health care, that devolve upon the the society's burden no matter how, again, penuriously we handle it, as a result of these excesses. My best example is lead poisoning which is, of course, a social disease of children in the slums eating paint, which is illegal. The eating is not illegal, the having of that kind of paint in these slums is illegal, but there it is. And it costs too much to take it down or paint over it. So, lead poisoning remains the most important cause of mental defects aside from congenital in children, amazing fact. And a good case of lead poisoning, where it doesn't kill, will so maim a child's brain that he will become a ward of the state. And in those cloistered surroundings survive for sometimes 60 years, at a cost of perhaps 200,000 dollars to the society. Again, that good old American dollar and cents--
Studs Terkel You know, since you're talking about lead poisoning, something [unintelligible] news item the other day, these casual news items, they're so casual, page 24. We -- but this was front page of course there was no heat, and there was no heat at all, the frozen -- but the woman [says], so her daughter died of, as she called it, sickle anemia. Sickle anemia, sickle cell anemia. That comes about by what?
Studs Terkel No.
Dr. Quentin Young This is really a provable genetic defect in the elementary sense imprinted on the chromosome. But in my professional lifetime we've seen that there's much more can be done for sickle cell victims. It's a grim disease. When I was in training we were told they'd never live past 20, then 30, and now we see them living. It takes a lot of extra effort in the field of nutrition, as well as everything else. By appropriately sickle cell anemia will wait on more fancy genetic techniques to to avoid its emerging or, on the other hand, selective intermarriage to avoid its being imprinted on kids--
Studs Terkel If we come back to these illnesses both physical and psychic that Jean has observed and you, of course, observe all the time. As some of the ladies whose voices we heard at the beginning were talking about the budget that is not allowed, in fact, not allowed, dry cereals, you know, no dry cereals. We're speaking of a low, a low-protein diet. Would you mind explaining that a bit, Dr. Young?
Dr. Quentin Young Well, usually these bureaucratic regulations have one of two sources: either they're they're economy measures to force the people into low-cost sources of nutritious food or they represent, you know, the idea that they can plan for the people by limiting certain things. My guess is that dry cereals are probably more costly. I don't know that much about budgeting, but when they're prepared in that way they're more costly per unit of nutrition than the stuff you put in a pot and boil. Maybe Jean can enlighten me. But whatever the sources of this, I think the actuality is that the groups we're talking about find that the necessity to go outside that limitation very great and the pressures of the TV again. And on one hand a lack of sound health education and nutrition education, which incidentally shouldn't be minimized no matter what--
Studs Terkel You know. this is incredible, as you're talking, Jean, perhaps you know, barge in [unintelligible] I was thinking as Dr. Young was talking, TV, the dry cereal -- we think of smiling [unintelligible] of Bob Richards, the decathlon champion for who -- advertises Wheaties all the time--
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Dr. Quentin Young Yeah.
Jean Komaiko We learned this trick from a fourth grade teacher at Francis Parker school who was very popular with her classes because she always gave them a piece of chocolate mid-morning. And we eventually learned that she was doing it for a very sound purpose. It was very pleasant for the children, but it was also giving them some quick energy. And we found this, too. Some of our volunteers began feeling this was a bribe system and they very quickly changed their minds because the children had a much greater receptivity to work on their reading when they had a little bit of nourishment.
Studs Terkel We're talking about this matter of nourishment and behavior patterns of people, all, young and old. You speaking of people, of the kids sleeping in your classes very often. The sleep was also kind of an escape, too, isn't it? That is, sometimes if you sleep early or some people sleep late, so they can avoid having to be hungry for breakfast. And so sleeping also may be not only a lack of interest in class, of course, because she's not much interested in them, but also an escape from hunger, too, possibly.
Dr. Quentin Young Right. If you sleep, your nutritional requirements go down. It's just the basal state, and I'm sure it's it's sheer adaptation. If you are as active as a person with adequate calories, you'll rapidly get in a very desperate physical state. It is, it's no question that the concentration camp victims, any circumstance where you control input and keep it low, there's a running down of metabolism. And so, I think you're you're pointing to a very important aspect that, so much of what we -- from without judges as a as a lack of interest, negative feeling, listlessness, and what have you, all the cliches, may be just plain denial of adequate energy. What's interesting in the large sense, in population studies and in nutrition, I think, is the way in which when you add food to a human being they emerge as a much better physical specimen. That may seem self-evident, but you have these amazing -- for example, the amazing growth in height in the American population where food in the sense of Asia, let us say, or South America has not been the problem. Japan is experiencing a rise in height that's measured in inches in a decade. I saw a very small experiment, if that's not the wrong word, in Mexico where the Mexican Indian which, you know, constitutes the vast majority of the population and lives outside the megapolis of Mexico City and the main dominant culture, they're all kind of little. I mean really little. And whenever they come into food that goes beyond the cornmeal and chili and a little lime that they add to it, beans. That's the whole diet--
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Studs Terkel Could we, you know, before we hear about -- I know Jean Komaiko mentioned the the forthcoming appearance of the McGovern Committee on Hunger. Even that phrase reminds you of something, of a Walker Evans picture of a '30s or a "Grapes of Wrath" or a James Agee theme, but it's now. The Committee on Hunger coming in. Hunger, Dr. Young. The question of malnutrition and starvation.
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Dr. Quentin Young Right. I'm sure this is the most dominant kind of thing we have in this country. It's much more insidious. I'm sure that even in our jaded town somebody died in the street and it was hunger as it does take place in India, for example, would there be an outrage? But we can conceal it. Again, Bertolt Brecht, hiding our our poor and our maimed. They get by. But at the price we're mentioning. They get by shorter, more vulnerable to disease, less capable of coping with situations on a straight physical and psycho-physical basis. I think the garnering of the foodstuffs that are necessary to just to vitalize our population is a very high priority.
Dr. Quentin Young Yes.
Dr. Quentin Young Yes. That -- I think the new interest in this stems from the Field Foundation sponsored study in the South that aroused so much wrath in the Southern congressmen. I was startled to see a Tribune editorial, which condemned Congressman Jamie Whitten for successfully keeping the Federal group out that was studying under-nutrition in the South.
Studs Terkel We can come to the theme again of the matter of hunger in the big city, hunger in the big town. In our midst, hidden. Something is not obvious and yet it's there, and yet isn't there something happening among young doctors today? If we could you talk about this, since you are, you know, Chairman of the Committee of Students in the AMA. Is something happening with medical students today? I'm not putting down traditional doctors. Many of them have devoted their lives to the community, others not. I'm not talking about the AMA right now. Its history is rather well known. How about now? Do you feel there's a -- as something is happening among young doctors and community involvement?
Dr. Quentin Young Very emphatically. Of course, I'm not a chairman of any student committee. I work very closely with them, both the student American Medical Association and even more so with the so-called student health organizations, which is made up of medical students and other students like nursing students, psych students, and the rest. And, Studs, it's a very remarkable thing that the full dimension and impact is not yet, I think, clear but it's all to the good. You have something new motivating these students. They've added to the traditional goals of excellence and skills and self-aggrandizement a new priority of social concern that is very very widespread, and I think it's already stood the test of time. In the same vein, in the teaching hospital of Albert Einstein Med School in New York, the first wave of student health organization interns. The organization is just old enough, so that they are now having men in the internship and women. They cope with the problem of high fees in the clinic, 16 dollars per visit, which was the legacy of the Medicaid program there, which just made that the cost for people who are subsidized, but then they took away the subsidy when they had the cutbacks you may have read about. And all of a sudden these people in the three thousand to six thousand a year bracket were stuck with a 16 dollar a visit to the clinic. So the students did the following things -- these aren't students, these are interns and residents. They organized and all 45 of them took a old trade union arrangement, injury to one is injury to all. Anybody gets suspended we all walk off. Then they talked to the hospital workers who organized that hospital and then after a brief consultation they agreed to honor any picket lines and then they did their thing, which in this instance was to post all over the clinic signs which said, don't stay away but don't pay. And while, as usual, they were told they were violating federal law, that their internships were in danger, all the jeopardy of the -- that could be thrown at them, in two or three days they brought the hospital system in New York to its knees. The fees were reduced. And I think they have a model. Now this is just one action at the level of their house staff training. They've already demonstrated their vigor and virility in the area of changing medical curriculum. Now when they, when these young people become the doctors and nurses of our society I think we're going to have some amazing changes in our medical system.
Studs Terkel This is a perfect prologue, too, aside from the hopeful note you sound. A perfect prologue to what can be done. We're now talking and people, I trust, thousands are listening. What can we do? Jean Komaiko wrote this letter to the board, but the committee of Senator McGovern is coming to town. How is this -- what led to this committee being formed, a committee on hunger? And Jean, I assume you will be testifying and others will?
Jean Komaiko Well, I hope they're coming to town. They're either coming to town or there will be hearings in which Chicago representatives will be called to Washington. I don't know the history of the group, but I am sure that the Field Foundation thing led to, and Hunger USA book, report has led to an awareness of this. And I hope one thing that will be done will be a great convergence on Springfield this June to try to get new liberalized legislation for these various food programs. And, from my point of view, for the -- to liberalize the school milk and lunch programs.
Dr. Quentin Young I think we have, to try and respond to your question, a a overwhelming obligation, because the universal, I think, concern it takes -- it seems to be only those at the very margin of our society, the outright hypocrites and say this the bad guys, the really bad guys, would oppose the question of food for children and mothers who are bearing children. And I would like to feel that all the things that Jean said, and all the other forms, I think we have an enormous amount of educational work to do through all the media. I think that we have to adopt as the slogan, if you please, end hunger in Illinois, if we're going to deal with that level, and have a really short-term kind of perspective, because this is really one social problem that is easy. We can fuss about the school problem and the housing problem as being very complicated. But this one is easy. The food is there. We just have to get it to the people. And incidentally, I have half a feeling that many of these other problems will become easier, too, if we're dealing with people who are not on the edge of starvation.
Studs Terkel Well, this is a conversation this morning talking here with Dr. Quentin Young, past President of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. His last two words are the operative words there. And the subject is hunger. And Jean Komaiko, writer, volunteer, teacher in the ghetto [pause in recording]. And perhaps we could end the way we began with the welfare mothers talking. And so they're talking about food and hunger.
Female Speaker 5 We're pretty much the same, you know, like she said, when you first get your your -- our check from the welfare you eat pretty good for a couple of weeks, and after that you, if you, you have to be almost a home economics, you know, just try to make it, you know, otherwise you don't make it--
Female Speaker 3 Well, really, I don't see how they can make it off of that. One thing they talking about we don't pay tax and all this jive. You know, when they send out these food stamps, everybody thinks food stamps are really good, but really they're not because we pay tax on food stamps. Every time we go to the store to buy food we've got to pay tax and--
Female Speaker 2 She took the words right out of my mouth. I was just going to say that people, you know, [stress?] well, they get food stamps, they get a bonus, but that bonus is usually taken up in taxes. When you -- after you pay your taxes on your food you buy. And the onl- the -- I'm a tell you, it's funny with the food stamp. The food stamps, if you go spend them book by book, like a dollar a day or something, you mess them up. It really messes them up. But if you spend it in a large quantity, all of the stuff that you buy at one time usually takes up all the foods stamps you get for that whole month. And it only lasts no more than a week and a half.
Female Speaker 2 Right.
Female Speaker 2 Well, we live like -- maybe people would live, who who left in the poverty bracket for a week and a half. Who have to, you know, who can eat decent food. But after that week and a half, you call on your case worker maybe for a disbursement order. And if you get the disbursement order, it's deducted from your check--
Female Speaker 3 Well, for me for instance they gave me a raise on my food stamps, but they didn't raise my check. They raised my stamps from 42, from 41 dollars to 46 dollars, but they didn't raise my check. But still I have to pay this money for the food stamps. But they don't give me no extra money for it.
Female Speaker 4 Mostly.
Female Speaker 2 My kids got [it?] because my two little girls, they go to Head Start and they eat there. I have to worry about my little boy. He doesn't eat breakfast. But he eats lunch. He goes to school, he eats his lunch, at there.
Female Speaker 4 [Unintelligible] have to be used for rent and utilities and help buy food to finish out. So, therefore, we cannot get any clothes. Now, for teenagers going to high school, our budget would say, my budget will be nine dollar and one cent. For a teenager that is going to high school, per month.
Female Speaker 4 Yeah.