Everybody eats. Well… shall I say, everyone needs to eat… and I would go as far as to proclaim that everyone has the right to eat. You see, hunger is a complicated and problematic issue no matter the angle from which you gaze. It is hardly as simple as a more efficient distribution system or population control, increased production or food aid. Although those are all arguably pieces of the puzzle, I propose that hunger mainly concerns an unequal distribution of power, an inadequate allocation of resources. I agree with Susan George in her book, Ill Fares the Land (1984), where she encourages that the solution to hunger requires that we look critically at three issues: who controls production and land, who decides how surplus is redistributed, and who has the power to determine who eats and who will not. These are important, yet intimidating questions without simple answers.
In a world with more than enough food to feed everyone amply and more than sufficient means of transport, there are few explanations for hunger and food insecurity that do not involve greed, power, and inequality. The powerful hold the strings to seeds, trade policy, surplus distribution networks, and commodity prices, while the stomachs of the powerless grumble a distant growl. Power in this change arena means control – control of production, processing, distribution, pricing, and anything in between or beyond. Basically, power, in the realm of food insecurity, means having the authority to decide who eats and who does not.
So many times, the picture of hunger in our world is painted as confusing and hopeless. After all, at least “1.1 billion of the world’s 6 billion people are undernourished and underweight…after a half-century during which food output nearly tripled” (Brown 43). This reality hardly is maddening to me (how about you?) and can surely be traced to a variety of culprits including inefficient distribution and irresponsible use of resources, corporate domination of world markets, and oppression of vulnerable populations. There is enough literature in the main stream, though, proclaiming this apocalyptic vision full of doom for our planet and the human race. As a result, in this entry, I would like to direct you toward some creative solutions, specifically when it comes to hunger. For, until humanity begins to tackle an issue like hunger with an attitude of optimism and determination, we will continue to flounder and a hunger-free world will become an ever more distant possibility.
For an uplifting view of possible, culturally appropriate, local/regional solutions to hunger the world around, I encourage you to visit some of these links:
- Belo Horizonte, Brazil – “The City that Ended Hunger”
- Sisters of the Road Café – Portland, OR
- Toronto Food Policy Council – Toronto, Canada
- Keep Growing Detroit! – Detroit, MI
- El Movimiento Campesino a Campesino – Central and South America
As you can see, solutions to hunger take different forms in different places depending on needs and cultural context. None, though, can possibly exclude participation by those who already have food, either through activism or decision-making. Although some of these strategies can be generalized and others cannot, the best practices and motivations provide insight into workable action steps in order to dispel the immobilization and hopelessness that stall many efforts from even beginning.
So, during this Lenten season of reflection and almsgiving, I ask… What are you doing as one of the (likely) better fed people in our world to build momentum toward solving world hunger and other intersecting issues? How are you raising your consciousness and that of those around you? How can we each contribute toward the creation of an “Easter moment”, a moment of triumph, when it comes to hunger. Can you feel the hopefulness of the Easter season on the horizon for our hungry brothers and sisters? I do and I hope you can join me in the work.
Molly Robertshaw is an Assistant Director at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice. As co-founder of the NEXUS Community Garden here on campus, she has found a way to meld her passions for ending hunger, building community, and getting dirty outside all summer long. Ironically, she’s not really an expert at growing food in the least, but rather loves bringing people together for the adventure that is gardening and is energized by how getting our hands dirty together builds community.