Don’t tell Veronica Maz who’s hungry in America. She runs McKenna’s Wagon, a Good Humor ice cream truck turned Good Samaritan. She sets up shop in it in Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, and serves free sandwiches to Washington’s street people, who loll on park benches 150 yards from the Oval Office.

No longer does Maz serve only the skid-row alcoholics she saw when she started feeding the hungry 15 years ago. Today, she judges that about half of her customers are mentally ill, people who have been allowed to “re-enter” society by the institutions that used to care for them. There is another stripe that shows up today, not at the mobile wagon, but at Maz’s soup kitchen, called Martha’s Table. This is a better class of poor, if you will—people who seem more motivated and employable; people who seem only temporarily without work; people whose food stamps have ended before the month has.

There are many people like Veronica Maz, and the lines at their kitchens have grown over the winter. That is why it seemed to be particularly insensitive for presidential assistant (now attorney general) Edwin Meese to say, as he did recently, that maybe these people aren’t all that hungry, and that despite all the stories about bread lines, no one really knows how many truly hungry people there are in America.

The fact is, nobody really knows how many truly hungry people there are in the U.S. The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative agency of Congress, has concluded that “an official national hunger count does not exist. No one knows precisely how many Americans are going hungry or how many are malnourished.” The last nutrition survey aimed at the poor is now six years old, and the next one will ...

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