Tag Archives: Minnesota FoodShare

People Are Talking — About Hunger in a Land of Plenty

The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.  Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.”  Norman Borlaug

Today’s convergence of factors lead to sobering thoughts – of hungry children plodding through the snow with no breakfast, of the calls for acts of charity at this penitential season, and of concern to meet  goal for Minnesota FoodShare Month, highlighted by a call to action issued by Governor Dayton and a project of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.

Minnesotans may have read or heard that food shelves throughout the state are more than ever in need of both financial and food support.  Barrels are everywhere through Minnesota communities to make it easy for generous folk to drop off non-perishable goods.  Food and financial drives are going full speed in houses of worship, the workplace, nonprofits and the community at large.

The good news is that people are taking a closer look at why we have persistent hunger in our communities – why children go to bed hungry, why seniors have to decide between meds and food, why, in spite of the adage, waste and want exist side by side.  Conversations are going beyond emergency needs to the deeper questions such as What has led us from crisis to benign acceptance of a societal travesty? How do we in a farm state balance production and consumption?  Why do higher employment rates and food shelf statistics not compute?  Is the right to food a human right?

The media are contributing to the public discourse in positive ways.  A Place at the Table, is drawing audiences and media coverage.  Anna Lappe’s presentation, sponsored by Minnesota FoodShare and the Westminster Town Hall Forum, drew a SRO audience and has been requested by a barrage of MPR listeners.  Local media have given time to features on hunger-related issues.  The Daily Planet recently ran the Minnesota FoodShare video for their broad audience.  And people of faith are heeding the words of their leaders in places of worship of every denomination, including a local adoption of  Mazon, a nation-wide Jewish response to hunger.

Meanwhile, at the State Capitol, legislators will have a chance to listen to the public and take action on the immediate needs.  Though the imperative to fill the shelves with more and better food is a priority, it’s time to take a longer view of the underlying issues…. If not now, when?

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The Challenge to Frame the Right to Food as a Human Right

Writing last fall in The Nation Anna Lappe makes a powerful point about why it is hard for Americans to think of the right to food as a human right.  Lappe avers that “it’s extremely difficult to get the concept of the right to food across in the United States because of your constitutional tradition that sees human rights as ‘negative’ rights – rights against government – not ‘positive’ rights that can be used to oblige government to take action to secure people’s livelihoods.”

Lappe, founding principal of the Small Planet Institute and head of the Real Food Media Project, suggests that “so embedded is this in your constitutional culture that the concept that social and economic rights are real rights is generally not accepted.  While human rights to health, education, social security or food are guaranteed to a certain extent through legislation, they are still seen as suspect…. The protective role of government is denounced as paternalistic and even as paving the way for totalitarianism.”

One of the early calls for this nation to re-think the right to food was publication of Diet for a Small Planet, a bestselling book written in 1971 by Frances Moore Lappe, mother of Anna.  A decade later, the concept of food as a human right was underscored when Nobel-Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen published Poverty and Famines in which he challenged the idea that the root cause of hunger is not a crisis of productivity but a crisis of power.  Anna Lappe echoes Amartya Sen when she writes, “hunger’s root cause is clearly not a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy.”

Various agencies of the United Nations have taken a lead in re-framing the right to food as a human right. The right to food is variously defined, of course.  In general, the right refers to an essential element without which human beings cannot survive.  Much is written about the responsibility of the individual to fend for him/herself and the obligation of the state when the individual is not capable of obtaining food because of special circumstances such as imprisonment or military service.

“Food security” is the term currently used to describe the basics:  Food must be available, i.e. in sufficient quantity for the entire population; food must be accessible, i.e. each person must be able to procure nourishment either through his own production or through the capacity to buy food; access to food must be stable and continuous; and food must be healthy, i.e. consumable and clean.

Addressing the issue of hunger as a violation of human rights Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “while it is imperative to respond immediately to emergencies and commensurate humanitarian support and aid in order to address conditions of hunger, a human rights focus will focus will contribute to making solutions more durable and more equitable in the medium and long run.”

Similarly, Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has said that the food crisis is a man-made disaster with identifiable causes that obliges all States [nations] “to act without delay to bring relief to the victims.”  De Schutter has said that agricultural politics, the international trade regime, climate change and food aid may appear in some as purely social, economic, or humanitarian issues, but none of them can be addressed effectively without taking the right to be free from hunger into account.

Anna Lappe’s comments may explain in part the disinclination of the United States to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which has now been signed by over 160 state parties.  Signees to the covenant agree to take steps to the maximum of their available resources to achieve progressively the full realization of the right to adequate food, both nationally and internationally.  In the nations that have agreed to the concept of food as a basic human right that right is specified either in law or in the constitution.

It seems an anomaly that the U.S. has not ratified the Covenant for economic and social rights.  Anna Lappe stresses that “the concept of economic and social rights is not un-American.”  She quotes FDR’s 1944 State of the Union address in which he suggested the need for a “Second Bill of Rights” covering basic social rights as an indispensable complement to the civil liberties listed in the Bill of Rights.

Clearly, reframing an issue as complex and pervasive as the right to food takes mental agility on the part of individuals, communities and society. One opportunity for group think will take place on Thursday, March 14, when Anna Lappe will speak at Noon at the Westminster Town Hall Forum.  Her talk, “Building Real Food Communities”, is co-sponsored by Minnesota FoodShare as part of this community’s celebration of March 2013 as Minnesota FoodShare Month.

Walking the Walk to End Hunger – With a Little Help from My Friends

In just five years, the Walk to End Hunger has become a Thanksgiving morning tradition.  During those same years hungry Minnesota families have had to depend more on the generosity of others to supplement their nutritional needs.

The Walk to End Hunger has evolved as an exemplary collaboration among nonprofit organizations that share the mission not just to provide nutritious food but to end hunger.  Some walkers get going before dawn, lace up their walking shoes, and meet at the MOA at 7:00 a.m.   Others join the marathoners at their own pace – the walk continues till 10:00 a.m.  Each walker or team is backed by a host of sponsors, friends and family who pledge to support the walker, the walker’s preferred nonprofit organization, and the imperative to end hunger.

In order to tilt the age distribution of the walking throng I have signed up to walk in support of Neighbors, Inc.   For the past months I have volunteered at Neighbors where I have come to know, respect and truly admire the organization that is now in its fortieth year serving Northern Dakota County residents who are in need of food, clothing, transportation and other support.

The idea of “giving back before giving thanks” inspires to me to think about those who will not be sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast – even more, it makes me reflect on the difficult truth that we need a concerted effort to effect systemic change. Ours is a nation in which wasted food and hungry families are separated not by geography but by the collaborative joining of forces that the Walk typifies.

This is the ultimate family-friendly event.  There will be rides and other activities for young folks while some of the MOA shops will be open.   Walkers will have given it their all by 9:00 which leaves plenty of time to get home to baste the turkey, to head out to Grandma’s, or to see how the TC’s chef de jour tempts the Minnesota palate.

If you are touched by the need, inspired by the collaborative approach, seized by the challenge to end hunger, or just amazed that this Little Old Lady has the temerity to think she can keep pace, please consider sponsoring me with a contribution earmarked for Neighbors, Inc.    If you’re my vintage you can hum “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as you sign the check or try to read the numbers of your credit card.

ü  To learn more about the Walk to End Hunger, click here. To sign up as a sponsor check on “Visitor” then “Sponsor Participant.”

ü  To learn more about Neighbors, Inc. – click here.

ü  To hear a hard-sell personal pitch, call or email me.  612 781 4234 or mtreacy@onvoymail.com

Thank you very much for your commitment to end hunger.  We hope this walk will set the pace for what must to a sustained collaborative effort.

Help others first. Then help yourself to seconds.