Everyone deserves to eat healthful food, right? I would argue that this should be a human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, thought so too. In its Article 25, it reads: “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.” But despite this, we know that nearly a billion people still suffer from chronic malnutrition (ref 1, ref 2) and among urban children rates are still 30% in Africa and 14% in Europe (ref 3). These are shocking statistics during a time when we have more than enough food for everyone (ref 4).
Hunger is not just a disease that affects people in poor countries. We have considerable amounts of it in the United States as well. According the USDA, 17.4 million households (or 14% of people) were food insecure at some point in 2014, where a food-insecure household is one that “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources” (ref 5). Two conclusions derive from this finding. One, it is horrifying that over 43 million people go hungry in the “richest” country in the world. Two, the chief cause of this hunger is poverty (and, by extension, economic inequality). If you wonder what type of people go hungry, Feeding America (an non-profit organization) provides a heartening look at the faces of hunger on its website. Answer: everyday people.
So what should we do about this? A lot of people in this country work on this problem as they, themselves or through their neighbors and friends, have felt the pangs of hunger for a long time (it is not a new problem). In my community, we have several food pantries operating, we have an organization that serves free meals twice a month, we have another relatively new organization that fills backpacks for school children on Fridays (so that the kids can get food on weekends when school lunches aren’t available), and we have a Farmers’ Market that ensures that LINK dollars (the IL version of “food stamps”) can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. And while these organizations and the hundreds of volunteers that make them function do incredible things for our struggling community members, the programs they run are largely “Band-Aids” rather than long-term solutions. Our community took one of these “Band-Aids” off this summer when, due to state budget failings, its school board eliminated summer school for elementary students. This cut hurts our kids’ minds as well as their stomachs because a summer breakfast/lunch program, that was mandated to exist in conjunction with any summer school offering, was cut as well.
How should we respond to these continued cuts and hunger in general? We could organize volunteers to feed children this summer. We did just that about five years ago when the local schools closed in early January for two weeks to save money on heating bills. It, the Lunch Spot Program, was a great success (and even received high commendations from the State) but it required a lot of intense volunteerism over a two week period. In the situation we are facing now, we would need at least that level of support during the summer (a harder sell for volunteers than winter) for ten weeks. And, even if that were to be accomplished, it would still be a Band-Aid. Thus, we need to create solutions that solve the problem of hunger, not just ones that relieve it temporarily. This will take new ideas and new visions of what is most important in our community. If food truly is a human right, today is the day to offer up these new visions. Ideas?