Hunger in a World of Plenty

Originally posted on Pursue: Action for a Just World

This Food Day, we have a chance to ask the big question about hunger: why does it still exist? Does it occur:

  • Because there is not enough food for everyone?
  • Because of climate change?
  • Because of insufficient infrastructure?

The simple answer is that none of these is the sole cause of hunger today. There is enough food today to feed everyone on the planet, but the unequal distribution of wealth means that some people go hungry while others struggle to lose weight in the U.S. obesity epidemic. Climate change can lead to insufficient rain or floods that kill crops and decrease the quantity of food available, but there are also advanced growing techniques that will allow us to maintain an adequate supply of food, at least for the near future. Infrastructure isn’t the problem either. While in some places poor roads or lack of railroads can hamper the distribution of food, local communities can most likely grow their own food nearby.At the event “Hunger in a World of Plenty” on October 16th, sponsored by Oxfam NYC Action Corps, American Jewish World Service, Union Theological Seminary and The Hunger Project, these concerns were the focus of conversation. After the screening of a film by the same name, a number of panelists discussed the connections between food justice and world hunger today. The issues are quite complex, but I left with a few major takeaways:

1.       The fluctuation in food prices is caused by speculation in commodities markets, in addition to real factors such as weather and food production. Regulations can help prevent such severe price increases, and rules have just been passed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (given authority in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul) to do just this.

2.       A rise in food prices that may be a minor inconvenience to middle class residents of developed countries means hunger for many in developing nations. They cannot afford price increases, as many of them already spend a majority of their income on food.

3.       The best way to ensure that hunger is reduced and eventually solved is to provide communities with the resources and tools that they need to grow at least some of their own food. In this way they will be able to provide for themselves, less dependent on imported food, and less affected by price fluctuations in the market.

4.       Developed countries like the U.S. play a major part in preventing this from happening. Subsidies, which significantly lower the cost of production for farmers in developed countries, allow nations like the U.S. to dump excess rice, corn, or other crops in developing nations, often under the guise of food aid. While in the short term such food aid is necessary to combat immediate lack of food, such practices can destroy local economies. A prime example is the dumping of free rice in Haiti in the months after the earthquake, making it impossible for Haitian rice farmers to sell their products and harming their livelihood.

There are so many more complexities to current food justice and food aid issues, but what gives me some solace is that organizations like the co-sponsors of this event are working to change the system. AJWS has a fantastic petition to Reverse Hunger by maintaining funding for food aid (a fraction of 1% of the national budget) and using those allocations smartly. I am hopeful that we can make an impact and I hope to attend an event in ten years about the progress we have made and how close we are to ending world hunger.

Avi Smolen is currently the Communications Manager for Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice, a domestic social justice organization, in New York. He graduated from Rutgers University in 2009 with a BA in Political Science and minor concentrations in Jewish Studies and Psychology. Previously, Avi worked as a Faiths Act Fellow in Washington DC at the Malaria Policy Center, where he focused on engaging college students in multi-faith global health activism, and as Development and Communications Associate in the New York office of Keren Or, a Center in Jerusalem for blind and multi-disabled children and young adults.