Hunger, Starvation & Civil Unrest
In America

Dateline: 31 December 2016

In My Previous Blog Post I mentioned the Russian Famine of 1921. And I stated that, although America has never suffered a famine, many people in America suffered from malnutrition and death as a result of malnutrition during the Great Depression years. I was not sure about whether or not Americans actually died directly from starvation in those years. But, if the following PBS documentary is correct, there were deaths from starvation.

That documentary makes it clear that serious hunger (the precursor of famine) was widespread in America during the Depression. It was, in fact, the most serious problem this country faced in those years.

I've heard people say that folks who lived in the rural countryside back in those days lived pretty well despite the Depression. You know, "A country boy can survive."

Well, I'm sure that was true of many who lived in the country, but it doesn't appear to be true of all country folks. The movie tells of 500 farmers in the South who marched into a small town to loot a grocery store. Their families were hungry. They had no other option. That's an event I had never heard before.

I don't know if this era of American history interests most other people as much as it does me. I've been fascinated with the Great Depression since I was little. In previous blog posts I've mentioned my Uncle Clyde Kennedy's biography of living through those years (The Hard Surface Road). If you didn't actually live through the Depression, and you didn't actually suffer from the extreme poverty, and hunger of that time, I don't think you can really understand it. But the documentary above does a pretty good job of telling the story.

There are recurring patterns to history. We all know that. And when I watched that documentary, I felt like I might be now living on the cusp of a recurring pattern.

Fat times are followed by lean times. And after a season, the fat times return. That's the way it goes. And there isn't anything that I (or you) can do to stop this recurring pattern of history. The patterns come and go according to the sovereign orchestrations of a power far higher than us. 

For the 58 years of my life I've lived in fat times. I hope the fat times continue. But I am mindful of the lessons of history.


  1. My parents grew up here in rural Middle TN during the Depression. To some extent, the lyrics from Alabama's song "Song of the South", applied: "Somebody told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor, we couldn't tell!" Since 1865, much of the South has known poverty, so that hadn't changed much, but at least folks mostly still owned their own farms, had gardens, and livestock, and as a result, had enough to eat.

    Now, I look at my family's little hometown, and like much of rural America, it went from a bustling center of commerce, where the local farm economy supported the shops in town, and the shops and services in town, in turn, supported the local farm family. Sadly, especially since the takeover by government/Big Agra post-WWII of much of the farm economy, the little town now struggles.

    Most folks choose to forget the past, and, as a variation on what C.S. Lewis termed "chronological snobbery," every generation deep down considers itself a little more enlightened, a little smarter and progressive than the preceding ones. However, just like the young man who, thinking of his ol' man as a pretty dim bulb when he's 18 or 19, grows to understand his dad gets a lot smarter as time goes on and life and Reality "happen" to him; this pattern does fortunately serve as a correcting influence. Sadly, though, starting with us Baby Boomers, successive generations seem increasingly self-satisfied in their arrogant folly, not understanding that the artificial prosperity we have enjoyed for a long time now, is not the norm, but is in fact a mere blip in history.

    If we're going to have Depression 2.0, there's a part of me that would like to go ahead, hold my nose, and get it over with. Break this damnable crony-capitalist system along with the arrogance of the pampered elites. I then realize that when that occurs, it won't just be the arrogant who suffer; it'll be good people as well!

    I pray we in the church especially will awaken to Reality, and not stay caught up in this corrupt system. We need to be there to be reflections of God's mercy and wisdom in those times, and not mere victims, addicted to the goodies from the corrupt, collapsing system.

    Oh well, sounding like Eeyore again, I see!

    Nevertheless, happy New Year, and God bless, Brother Herrick! Your articles are ever a source of encouragement and enjoyment!

    David Smith

    1. Hello David—

      Your comment is too good to leave as just a comment. I'm going to make it a post here so it won't be easily missed.

    2. You're too kind, brother!

      David Smith

  2. This is an interesting time in our country's history for me as well. I had seen a lot of the footage about the Bonus Army from a different documentary. I believe that we are entering these same times once again. To me, the Black Lives Matter movement has more of an economic underpinning than just police harassment as it is portrayed in the news. One is still in the hands of Almighty God as far as drought goes. but for the most part, there is plenty of wasted space in the USA for growing food. I have been fascinated by Curtis Stone:

    I have also been exploring beekeeping the last few years because it is a way to borrow unused space to make a living. I don't see the future as depressing. It will always hold opportunity for those who are prepared.


    1. RonC—

      I knew about the Bonus Army, but not the details as were given in the documentary. For example, I didn't realize that the bonus was something that the government owed to the veterans, but it was not due them until some years later (1945). They needed and wanted the bonus earlier than it was promised. I also didn't realize that so many women and children were in the camp. And I didn't realize that Douglas MacArthur ignored civilian command (from Hoover) to limit the military response.

      One part of the film that really grabbed my attention was the clip of Smedley Butler speaking to the Bonus Army. He was a remarkable guy. I think I need to make a blog post about that guy.

      I've also been watching Curtis Stone's YouTube videos. I like what he is doing. Very inspiring.

      I agree on not seeing the future as depressing. No believer in the sovereignty and grace of God should see the future as depressing. But those who truly believe such are a significant minority in this culture. :-)

      As always, thanks for the comment.

  3. Good post Herrick,
    I think that America is definitely headed for rough times -politically, economically, socially, and "kitchen table-ey". We have live in pleasure and been wanton, as the Bible says. Michael Bunker got me seriously on the road to agrarianism with his excellent book "Surviving Off Off-Grid" almost four years ago. i guess we are down to the point where praying an dpreparing is about all the common man can do.
    Joe Putnam

    1. Hi Joe—

      Agreed. The rough times are inevitable. Our modern culture is the ultimate expression of John Bunyan's allegorical Vanity Fair, and Christians are clearly called to separate from it as much as possible. Michael Bunker's book about how modern men have been colonized (in mind and body) by industrialization is excellent.

  4. Well, our family had hard times in the 70's. I was a teenager and my father was laid off every year from one job or another. He was a skilled mechanic and foundry worker but companies kept closing. Then we had to wait in line for gasoline. Many an afternoon I spent sitting in a gas line. My mother had to go to work to help support us and if I wanted new clothes, I had to babysit to earn the money, which I did. We never ate out...EVER. I literally remember once we ate at a restaurant in Worcester MA on the way to Maine to visit family and once more after a gathering of some sort. We went to the drive-in movies a few times when we were little kids but that stopped when I was 8 or 9. The next time I saw a movie in a theater was 1979, Star Wars. We ate a lot of mac and cheese out of the blue box. Chicken and beef were a rarity. We vacationed by visiting family and staying with them but never went on a "trip" or to an amusement park. Our house needed paint. Our cars were old.
    Nope, I've lived thru some lean times. Again when I was 19 and living on my own. I ate $10 worth of groceries a month (lots of potatoes and rice) and again didn't go out or "party" or to the movies.
    In comparison, I have lived very well these last 35 years. But I have not forgotten what it feels like to not be able to do something for lack of funds or to be hungry.

  5. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that we drank a LOT of powdered milk.

    1. I think that the experiences of our youth can really shape our thinking for the rest of our lives. I also grew up in a family that struggled with the finances. My stepfather would get sick, have surgery, and be out of work for stretches of time. I remember the bill collectors calling. I remember worrying about my parent's money problems. And I remember the government-supplied powdered milk, along with rice, cheese and beans.

      But I also had the experience of visiting my grandmother in Maine in the summers, and there were no money problems there at all. I felt very secure when I was with my grandmother Kimball, and did not want to go home at the end of the summer.

      As you know (being a long-time reader), I am extremely conservative when it comes to finances and debt, and it was those early life experiences that shaped the older me. I'm sure it is the same with you.

  6. Like so many of us I came from stock that had known deep poverty but were rich in faith and ingenuity. So many we knew lived as we did. That made for community. We knew the very basics we needed to survive and anything extra was heaven sent and a true blessing. Of course growing up we already felt to just be alive and in America we were blessed.

    That is what scares me a lot. The lack of community..of others understanding how to act and be during such times. Sticking together to help each other and such. Not asking others..especially big government for help, but figuring it out yourselves. I feel your little family could make it but how others will influence and change much of what we have to go by is a concern. I have been among the haters and ones who depend on help but do not want to work for any of it. Have little to no experience in any type of subsistence living nor do they think it worth knowing about. It is not a pleasant thing to be among. We are to be light to this world and not hide from it but frankly I find my light flickering when I am around some types and their thinking. For many I meet it is them verses us and that will be of no help when we all need to work together.

    I think too we are heading soon or some time in the not to distant future down the road to a big let down in our economy to say the least. One thing is sure God will still be on the throne no matter what happens and that gives me lots of comfort. We can only prepare mentally, physically, spiritually, materially and in all ways to try to be as ready as each of us can for that time.

    Thank you for all the information you supply here and the feeling of community we have here. Sarah

  7. My family has some horrible stories of 'The Great Depression" but the one that hurt the deepest was my grandmother being abandoned by her husband with 2 little one's and the youngest daughter died and my Uncle Marv developed rickets from malnutrition. She remarried a very kind & loving man who came to her rescue and he was my Grandpa Cookie. Up until 1972 I would visit my grandparents and we would go to the dump and hunt mayonnaise jars so she could do home canning with them, they still fit the canning lids back in those days. She always had a garden growing and she picked at orchards. Grandpa would hunt for treasures he could use back in his garage, he was a beer meister for Lucky Lager for 20 years. He drank beer till the day he died. We would stop off at a big pond at their friends farm so we could swim and get the dump stink off. Then we would have a picnic lunch. Yum! My grandma made all her gifts for family and one Christmas she made all of us matching P.J's in white & red flannel stripes. We still crack-up when we look at the picture, looks like we all belong in prison!