Tag Archives: Right to Food

Pope Francis Speaks Out on the Right to Food Access

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to focus on the seminal issue of the human right to access to food, an issue so complex, political and gnarled that I’ve given up the quest to plumb the depths – until Pope Francis brought it up.   Truth to tell, the Pontiff didn’t conjure it up out of the rarified atmosphere of the Vatican – the challenge to unravel the issue has fostered countless efforts, stymied many and challenged human rights activists for a couple of centuries.

The Pope embraced the challenge of hunger last week in a very public declaration at the Second International Conference on Nutrition meeting in his adopted hometown. Representatives of some 170 nations were gathered in Rome under the aegis of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, just one of numerous agencies struggling with the issue of the right to food on a global level.

One of the strongest political statements of the right to food appears in Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right to food as part of the right to an adequate standard of living:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Since that declaration the right to access to food has been the primary or sole focus of countless global and national studies, conferences, agreements, strategic plans, collaborative efforts and think tanks. The extensive Wikipedia entry on Right to Food offers a useful summary of the history of efforts to define and deal with the complexities of the challenge. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_food

Still, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that some 800 million people are hungry and 2 billion are affected by “micronutrient deficiencies” (e.g. not enough vitamins or minerals). Add in obesity, and some form of malnutrition affects half of the world population.

In this challenging environment the Pope faced the issue head-on: “Efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition are facing obstruction due to the priority of the markets, or preeminence of profits that have reduced food to a commodity subject to speculation, including financial speculation.”

Giving voice to what is common opinion among those for whom the right to access to food has been a priority for decades, Pope Francis spoke of sustainable food systems, improving food distribution and aggressive trade policies on food. The right to food, he averred, can be guaranteed only if we collaborate to focus priorities and policy on “helping the hungry.” “Interest in the production and availability of foodstuffs, climate change, and agricultural trade must certainly inspire rules and technical means, but the primary inspiration must the self-same person, those who do not have adequate access to food.”

Francis made explicit the distinction between availability and accessibility (a distinction long familiar to librarians and information providers….) Just because it’s out there somewhere doesn’t mean it’s accessible! Given that 1) food production is adequate, and 2) people have a right to food, the questions remain: Why is hunger a global, national, local crisis? Why is food available but not accessible?

On the topic of the misinformation, the Pope opined that, in the case of food access, “there are very few themes that are as susceptible to being manipulated by data, by statistics, by the requirements of national security, by corruption, or by the plaintive complaints of economic crisis.”

Clearly the Pope thinks and speaks in a global context. Still his words have local application. Most important, he sets a high standard for systemic thinking about a politically charged, complicated issue. Out of charity we tend to deal with the short-range reality that our neighbors are hungry, that children, the elderly, homebound, jobless and under-employed people need immediate assistance. Still, the challenge remains to tackle hunger with the vigor demanded by a complex issue rife with political, economic, technological and social perspectives that lend themselves to obfuscation, individual and institutional avarice.

In his much-heralded words to conference attendees Pope Francis echoes those of his host, Jacques Diof, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization:  “Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.”

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.