If you’re reading this article, the odds are good that you’re not hungry. If you were, you’d be on your way to the kitchen or the grocery store or the corner cafe to get your food of choice. But food insecurity is probably not a norm in your life.
Not so for about 50 million people in the United States. Of those 50 million, “nearly 17 million are children.” With so many people in our country out of work, is it any wonder that so many are going hungry?
On a global level, the numbers are mind numbing. About 870 million of the 7 billion people on Earth are hungry. It’s ironic when you consider that even more people on Earth (1.7 billion) are overweight or obese.
One might assume that hunger is a result of a scarcity of food, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. We actually have more than enough food to feed everyone. Hunger is caused by outright poverty, where people can’t afford food that’s available, as well as inadequate distribution systems. About half of all the food that’s produced is wasted. In Third World countries, the waste occurs before the food gets to the marketplace. In developed countries like ours, the waste occurs in our own homes and restaurants. We buy more than we can consume, so we dispose of the excess.
Those are the facts, but what does hunger have to do with us as individuals? The answer to that question depends on your personal belief system, your values.
Pope Francis has been in the news lately because of his stance on capitalism. As Michael Gerson wrote in The Washington Post, “He talks of business as ‘a noble vocation.’ He rejects a ‘welfare mentality.’ But he argues that market outcomes are not always identical to social justice and calls for public ‘investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented find opportunities in life.’” Capitalism “has produced innovation and extended lives. But in the absence of certain social conditions — the rule of law, equal opportunity, effective public administration — capitalism can result in caste-like inequality.”
The caste-like inequality we have descended into didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual, arguably deliberate inching toward the domination of the country by the people (e.g., the Koch brothers) and corporations (a.k.a. “people" according to the Supreme Court) who have the most money to influence our lawmakers. This influence is definitely a de facto rule by minority that continues to undermine all we hold dear — our electoral process, decisions regarding our national budget and social programs for the less fortunate that are being systematically starved to death by the minority who rule.
Growing up in this beautiful country, and having the opportunity for a fine education and a decent livelihood, I have always appreciated the positive side of capitalism. I competed for the jobs I won, and when I lost a job I went out and found another one, stitching together one after another into what became the fabric of a very rewarding career in the technology and business arenas.
All along the way, I knew I was fortunate to find a way to get an education without my parents’ help, and to win jobs when the odds were against me because of my gender or my age. Let’s face it, we haven’t eliminated all the obstacles to equal pay and opportunity in this country. We have some more distance to go to get there. But now it’s not so easy to go and get another job.
The challenges of the economic downturn have proven to be devastating for thousands of Americans. And for those of us who have a living wage, how did it happen that we are no longer shocked when we see a homeless person holding a sign out in front of Trader Joe’s, or that we’re not outraged when we hear that Congress plans to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rather than subtract a dime from the Pentagon’s budget? (As I write this, the Ryan-Murray budget proposal would not extend unemployment benefits for the 1.3 million jobless people and would raise government, including military spending — what are they thinking?)
Have we become inured to the systematically induced inequalities in our policies and our laws? Can we ignore the fact that they cause the tragic inadequacies of life for thousands of our citizens? Why do we take it for granted that our health-care providers have a right to charge us hundreds of dollars more per month than they deliver in health care, just so they can keep their shareholders happy and pay those generous bonuses to their CEOs? Is it right that some people have to choose between the medications they need and the food they require to survive?
In addition to the suffering of people within our borders, we have also seen large numbers in the world around us affected by natural disasters, war, environmental changes and the attempts on our part to control global markets so they grow commodities for us rather than the nutritious food they need for their countrymen. We seem to be able to deal with natural disasters in the short term, yet the solution to worldwide hunger has remained elusive. I propose that it is up to each of us to contribute to the end of the tragedy that is hunger.
Ending world hunger is a daunting challenge. On the other hand, if each of us had the will to contribute, collectively we could bring about many changes that would begin to meet the challenge. In the short term, we can contribute to organizations that feed the hungry both here and abroad. We can also lobby our elected representatives to support policies and legislation that improve the chances for people within our borders to get adequate nutrition.
In the long term, we can support organizations that are working to end hunger in many creative ways. One such organization is the International Food Security Treaty Organization, which would end hunger by force of law. Others include Action Against Hunger and Heifer International.
There are also many organizations that help people in the short term to address their nutritional needs. Our own Foodbank of Santa Barbara County magnifies your donation by using what you give them to access sources of food at wholesale prices. There are so many really good programs to help the immediate need; all you need to do is search online to find them. If you want to evaluate a charity before you give, you can check it out on CharityNavigator.org.
Finally, it is the time of year when we retreat into the darkness for a while, to wait and reflect and to contemplate the loneliness and need for light that permeated the Earth before the coming of the Light for the ages. As I write about this cause, it is Dec. 10, a day that Pope Francis has called for a world day of prayer to address the “scandal” of world hunger. Surely it is the cruelest thing for people to be hungry in a world where so many have plenty.
Let the rich person within us wake up and see Lazarus at the gate, realize that he is our brother and he is hungry. Let us find compassion within and actively contribute to the solution for world hunger by awareness, by giving, by acting and always by praying.
— Lynn Kienzel is a member of the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are Kienzel's own.