SHE'S got pink hair, she's terribly cute and she's hungry. In a bid to reflect the harsh realities of recession-era America, the makers of The Muppets have introduced a new character. Her name is Lily and she lives on the breadline.
The so-called "hungry Muppet" was introduced to viewers last night, on a special episode of the programme aimed at educating the public about the growing proportion of US families suffering from what sociologists term "food insecurity".
Lily began the programme showing Elmo around an urban food pantry. Her parents have been hit hard by the economic downturn, she explained, so they had recently begun using the facility to help fill their larder.
"One of the most important things for me was not feeling like I was alone," Lily said, regarding her experience visiting the pantry.
"The more I got involved with my community and everything, the more I felt like, not only that I was helping other families," she told her fellow puppet. "I just felt that it was really important to give and reach out to people."
Lily's debut came on a special prime-time edition of Sesame Street called Growing Hope Against Hunger. It was inspired by figures compiled by the US Department of Agriculture which estimated that 17 million American children, half of whom are under six years old, go hungry because their family is unable to afford sufficient food.
"In 2009, 15pc of US households were identified as being food insecure, or defined as being with limited or uncertain availability to meet their basic needs due to a lack of financial resources," Melissa Dino, a producer of the show told Newsweek magazine. "That's really, really staggering in our country."
Lily was designed to persuade young viewers to empathise with their less fortunate peers.
But Lily has been criticised by right-leaning commentators who believe that she represents an effort to brainwash the nation's youth about the perils of unchecked capitalism.
"Why is Lily a class, a group?" asked Eric Bolling, a commentator for Fox News. "Do we single out the black Muppet? Or the Hispanic Muppet? Why do we need to single out the hungry Muppet?"