Tag Archives: Hunger in America

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive – A quarter century of sharing

No man can rationally live, worship, or love his neighbor on an empty stomach. ― Woodrow Wilson

 When the National Association of Letter Carriers launched their first national food drive in 1993, most Americans felt confident that hunger was a temporary challenge,   A quarter century later Americans – children, elderly, mothers and their infants, jobless workers – go to bed hungry night after night.   Children cannot learn, sick people cannot heal, workers cannot be productive – because they are malnourished.

And the future is grim at best.

The good news is that the nation’s letter carriers remain committed to continue – even expand – their national food drive.  The 25th annual Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive is set for Saturday, May 13, 2017. (https://www.nalc.org/community-service/food-drive)

Last year the food drive collected a record 80 million pounds of nonperishable food.  This brought the total donations to date to more than 1.5 billion pounds.

The efforts of the letter carriers are shored up by hundreds of individuals and organizations that join in the drive.  This year’s partners include the U.S Postal Service, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Valpak, United Way Worldwide, the AFL-CIO, the AARP Foundation and Valassis.  Also joining letter carriers are their family members, friends, neighbors and other postal workers.

Details about this year’s drive have been – or soon will be – in every resident’s mailbox.  Sponsors are quick to remind donors that all contributions are tax deductible.  The Stamp Out Hunger Toolkit offers a wealth of ideas for promotion, collaboration, the logistics of the day  https://www.nalc.org/community-service/food-drive/food-drive-toolkit

Stay in touch with the Stamp Out Hunger Drive on Facebook (Facebook.com/StampOutHunger);  on Twitter follow @StampOut Hunger.  Be sure to check out the great StampOutHunger graphics here:  (https://www.nalc.org/community-service/food-drive/body/food-drive-17-RGB-flat-final.jpg)

Most important, plan ahead, think about the Stamp Out Hunger drive when you make your grocery shopping list.  Add some nutritious, delicious, non-perishable groceries that will help a local food shelf meet the needs of neighbors who need the helping hand that you are able to extend – with a little help from your generous letter carrier!

The rich swell up with pride, the poor from hunger.  Sholom Aleichem 

The politics of hunger midst plenty

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,                             those who are cold and not clothed. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower puts to rest any misperceptions of who cares about “combatting” hunger in our neighborhoods, the nation or the world. For the General the choice is real – and it is stark.

It’s a choice that daily faces our Deciders – from elected officials coping with the federal budget, to corporate leaders faced with less transparent choices, to every ordinary hard-working Minnesotan who is able to take time Thanksgiving morning to join the Walk to End Hunger.

On the one hand, the Walk garners much-needed financial resources so that sponsoring organizations can stock their food shelves. At the same time, the reality of thousands of people who care enough walk delivers a powerful message to the Deciders about the public’s reluctance to condone “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

There is more than ever interest these days on food – safe food, fresh food, organic food, food that is healthy, plentiful, nutritious, convenient, affordable, unique, appetizing, distinctive, delectable, epicurean….On Thanksgiving we expect all this and traditional.

Thinking about food is good and healthy – and thinking about good and healthy food must inevitably lead us to thinking about how to deal with the realty of hunger. We need to think about the fact that if, as Ike suggests, there is enough food to go around, what are the decisions that leave so many outside the circle of plenty? Who makes those decisions? What are the options? Who/what influences the Deciders? Are we complicit? What ideas have we not explored?

People who care enough to walk understand that this public action is a desperately needed but stopgap solution to a systemic problem. There’s got to be a better way. Maybe if we think and talk together as well as walk together we can come up with long-term sustainable solutions that favor the needs of hungry people over the never-satisfied demand for guns, warships and rockets.

Please support me and Neighbors, Inc. in the Walk to End Hunger here.

 

 

Food Policy: Making a Place at the Table for Information

In recent months readers of Poking Around have quietly endured my efforts to grasp the anomaly of hunger in a world of plenty – the struggle to connect the dots between world hunger and overproduction, to get a grip on the politics that tolerate hungry families in our community, to comprehend what it means to embrace the right to food as a human right.  Because my predisposition is to view every issue through the prism of open government, my mind wants to create a holistic approach to thinking about hunger in lay terms.   Flailing in an unfamiliar world of ambiguity and complexity, my only tool is a structured approach to gathering and organizing information till it makes sense.

As usual, help is at hand.  Next week’s appearance of Anna Lappe at the Westminster Town Hall Forum offers a start.  The straightforward presentation of issues that she and her mother, Frances Moore Lappe,  offer on their Small Planet Institute website are digestible

The documentary film, A Place at the Table, is also getting the conversation started with some good information and the star quality that grabs the public attention and positions the issues at the micro level.

The information imperative leaves me to the work of scholars and policy analysts at the University of Minnesota Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who study food issues from the macro level.   An article by Allen Levine, published in the Star Tribune some months ago, gave me a template for understanding “Global hunger – the Minnesota Connection” – not so much the answers but a frame of reference and a sense of relevance.

Levine writes that “as Minnesotans, it’s easy to dismiss global hunger as a problem that doesn’t directly affect us. And with a quarter of our state’s residents now considered obese, not having enough food may seem like the least of our worries.  But we should worry.  Demographers predict that by 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion; a high percentage of those people will live in cities or climate- challenged areas where they can’t grow their own food….As their incomes increase, people will expect not just food, but more nutritious (and thus, more expensive) food….Our farmers, our agribusiness, our nonprofits and, yes, our universities, all play key roles in global hunger prevention.…We have no choice: Minnesota must be part of the solution.”

Levine’s cogent proposal has five steps to reaching the goal of sustainably feeding everyone – five steps that I can count on one hand if not fully comprehend.  His construct refines my mental prism for assessing macro steps from a micro perspective – a handy guide for the lay person. The steps are straightforward and plausible:

  1. Support funding of agricultural research and development.
  2. Be vigilant about the effects of climate change, disease and drought.
  3. Accelerate the shift toward second- and third-generation biofuels such as algae and cellulosic material.
  4. Concentrate efforts on small-scale farmers, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, where many of the world’s poorest people reside and where much of the population growth will happen.
  5. Recognize that simply having enough food isn’t enough.

Another paper published just this week by the IATP has helped me get to the next plateau.  Karen Hansen-Kuhn of IATP asks the question “Who’s at the Table? Demanding Answers on Agriculture in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Trust me, I would not have paid attention to the TPP discussions until I read this paper where I learned that “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has the potential to become the biggest regional free-trade agreement (FTA) in history, both because of the size of the economics participating in the negotiations and because it holds open the possibility for other countries to quietly ‘dock in’ to the existing agreement at some point in the future.”  In other words, it’s a Big Deal.  And the U.S. and other countries are just getting on the food wagon.

This is where the transparency issue really comes into play.  Hansen-Kuhn’s work caught my attention when she writes that “it may be that governments, particularly the U.S. government, think they’ve been burned by transparency in the past.”  She goes on to ask the question, “Is it that the trade deals can’t withstand the light of day?”  Trade policy, she writes “should start from such goals as ending global hunger, enhancing rural and urban incomes and employment, and encouraging a transition to climate friendly agriculture.  The burden of proof should be on governments to demonstrate that the commitments being negotiated in the TPP will advance the human rights to food and development.  Given the stakes for agriculture and food systems in all of the countries involved, they should include all sectors in a frank discussion of the trade rules that are needed to ensure that food sovereignty, rural livelihoods and sustainable development take precedence over misguided efforts to expand exports at any cost.”

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, a time to think about and act on the issue of hunger in our midst..  My hope is that we take time as individuals, organizations, faith groups and families to think about the root causes and the long-term solutions to what is, after all, a solvable problem.

Open access to good information wisely wielded by informed people of conscience can make a difference.  We must make a place at the table for good information, sound judgment, and justice.

 

A Place at the Table: A Documentary that Provides Food for Thought

It’s Saturday morning, time to listen to The Weekend Edition and to think about what’s happening in the world.  This week there’s talk about the Oscars, of course, about Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, baseball, sequestration and then, a feature that I hope everyone caught.  It’s a piece about the forthcoming documentary, A Place at the Table, set to open in theaters around the nation on March 1.  (I have tried with no avail to track down local options)    Please take a few minutes to listen to the interview with the producers, the experts, and, most of all, the voices of real people struggle with  “food insecurity.”

Take time, too, to read the early comments to the brief interview – enlightening…..

In past posts I’ve written about the big picture of hunger – the right to food as a human right, the need to rethink agricultural policy and U.S. investments in research, hunger as an education issue and the need to move from stopgap to holistic policy to cope with what is, after all, a solvable human condition.

A Place at the Table presents the “why” of the dilemma.  It tells the real-life stories of children and families trapped in the poverty cycle, mainstream Americans trying to earn a living and to learn.  These are good hard-working people who are the collateral damage of a broken system.

The documentary includes the voices of and views of experts, including a sociologist, a nutrition policy leaders and an author, along with the experiences of a pastor, teachers and activists. Food insecurity is a huge problem that has an impact on everyone because the social, economic, economic and education implications are profound throughout society.

As most Minnesotans know by now, March is Minnesota FoodShare Month.  We work together to support the immediate needs of people who depend on the agencies, from major state institutions to local places of worship.  We share food and funds as well as awareness campaigns focus on the tragic fact that families in our community are going hungry through no fault of their own – and that we can help.

We also need to face the fact that we as a nation have within our purview the resources to solve this problem.  It’s complicated.  It will take collaboration among players with adversarial agendas.  It will take time.  It will mean that we will have to reexamine our basic belief in the right to food.  It will mean deconstructing a complex system that meets the voracious wants of some at the expense of the basic needs of others.  It may require retooling processing, shifting the research agenda, thinking in global as well as local terms.

A Place at the Table may possibly get the conversation started, especially if people of good will take time to listen to the preview and see the film.  Though its first run is in the theaters, the film will  no doubt travel a mix of digital routes in short order.

 

Information – The Key Ingredient to Solving the Problem of Hunger in America

 

The buffalo meat aphorism applies – the more you chew, the bigger it gets.

Statistics abound.  We know there are people in every community who are hungry.  We think of children going to bed hungry, or unable to learn because they have had no breakfast, or not growing strong bodies not because of genetics but because of poor tutrition.  We think of elderly persons who have to choose between food and meds, or who have no transportation to get to the grocery story or the food shelf.  We think of parents working two and three shifts to fee their families.

And then we think about what we can do.  And many of us do lots.  We support the local food shelf with food and funds.  We volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels and the food shelf.  We support the food drive, the Walk to End Hunger, and we’re working to get ready for FoodShare month coming in March.

Still, we know in our hearts that hunger is one social issue that can be solved.  We just do not know how to frame, much less solve, the issue.  It’s the buffalo meat conundrum.  In my humble opinion, it’s not a lack of political will, but of complexity, unbridled political forces, and the difficulty of identifying the thread of domestic hunger midst the tangle of forces within which it is trapped.

President Obama put a name on some of the entanglements:

Speaking of income disparities, he said: “For me the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”

He spoke, too, of the limits of the social safety networks: “We remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm.”

He spoke of living wages, “We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.” 

The President sets a tone that is emphatic and bold.  It’s up to an informed public, advocacy groups and elected officials to break that down into doable programs.

At the top of my list, as usual, is the imperative of transparency.   For starts, the main reason we don’t understand the symbiotic relationship between the Farm Bill and hungry Americans is that we can’t fathom the depths of the legalese.

If we know more about the use of public funds we will better understand the many tools we have to cope with hunger.  Of course we need to take care of people in need today, but we should not allow ourselves to stop digging deeper into knowing more – not just how many people are hungry, but why?

What is our food and nutrition research agenda?  Who is “discovering the facts?”

Who pays for the research?

Who is speaking to Congress? To the State Legislature?

How much of our food dollar goes for advertising? Lobbying?

Why are the elderly going hungry – is it shame, transportation, economics or is it the allocation of SNAP funds?

To what extent is hunger a “women’s issue?

To what extent are the issues of immigration and hunger related?

How are issues of hunger and the environment related?

Where do food co-ops fit in?

What are “competitive foods” and who has a stake in the regulation?

Who decides the ever-changing food pyramid?

Bottom line, hunger in this nation of plenty is one of the most complex issues on our endless banquet of solvable problems.  Thinking systemically about hunger is a powerful mental exercise that requires access to information that is current, accurate, impartial and understandable.  The conversation about hunger in America must reflect the perspectives of many forces – a challenge in a nation divided.

Still, it is only informed systemic thinking, putting hunger and the right to food in context, that we as a nation or a community will solve what is, in the end, a solvable problem.