feeding people

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?

2 thoughts on “feeding people”

  1. I have so many ideas, but we have to get the basics right, first. Because everything I read here, and linked to, and know about locally, relies on information that only causes the exacerbation of health issues, and reinforces the disempowerment of already-marginalized people as it makes them less healthy. Flawed, blaming “information” is not the answer to anything, except perpetuation of the existing hierarchies. More on this in a minute.

    Second, one of the most obvious solutions is presented clearly in the Feeding America clip — we need single payer healthcare! And yet they blather on about food banks. Really? Have you seen what they offer? Bread, donuts, bread, cakes, bread, and sugar — future diabetes in crappy plastic wrap. And having to accept free food from do-gooders is humiliating. That humiliation, as a blatant reinforcement of the power structure, starts looking useful if not fully intentional after a while.

    Another obvious solution, since food security correlates so perfectly with poverty, is to abolish poverty. My first choice on this would be to end corporate welfare (bank and Wall Street bailouts and subsidies flowing to very wealthy corporations that are toxifying our food, as examples) and shift that money toward those proven projects that undermine poverty and empower and support poor people. Additionally, we need to increase the minimum wage, and penalize employers who move production out of the country, who don’t pay benefits (or just get single payer), and who don’t pay a local community living wage; we could tax imports, too, in theory. Jobs, or at least productive endeavor options, are so much more empowering than handouts.

    As to the initial framing, there are so many areas where I want to do activist work that I’m really resenting the fact I ALWAYS have to play fat activist first and foremost. But someone has to undo the lies this culture loves to spread about us visibly fat folk, and challenge the nutrition idiocy that risks the permanent dumbing down of poor children via the low-fat fraud, as well as malnourishment of women and girls more generally. (What an awesome way to weaken activists!) Start with this: saturated fat is brain food. It doesn’t have to be from pastured animal flesh, but there are compelling reasons for that option; it can be from coconut oil. Saturated fat is also mood-stability nourishment. And, while what we weigh is not amenable to conscious change, a quality diet will increase health and may drop one’s weight into the low end of a body’s defended setpoint weight. Not a chart-defined ‘correct’ weight, but a body-defined right weight.

    We know that “ideal” weight, as found in height/weight charts and BMI tables, is an aesthetic standard. Yes, I said that. “Ideal” weight is an aesthetic, and not a health, ideal. Why? Because people on the low end of “obese” and the high end of “overweight” live longer. They call this a paradox. I call it being caught in a lie.

    I could pick apart similar untruths in the WHO article, and the many more in the Feeding America clip, and I will over time. Will people actually listen? For several years I’ve talked at the local Beaming Bioneers with another woman, and we’ve received solid praise for our sharing this new information. But we reach maybe 20 people a year. And our allies, and organizations designed to effect change for the poor, flip back to the “experts” who tell lies about us. HOW do we make an impact on this topic? I’ve been doing this for 46 years, without a break, and the noise pushing fat-hate and body blame is only getting louder. And, besides, I’d like to do other things — like getting single payer health care — too. But I can’t abide the harm being done in the name of “helping.” I can’t stand the body-shaming evident in this kind of “care.” And I can’t step away from fat activism until I know the “help” and “care” are real and meaningful. So here I am.

  2. In 2012 numbers, four years past, minimum wage would be about $11 if adjusted just for inflation, and more like $22 an hour simply adjusted for WORKER PRODUCTIVITY INCREASES.

    Minimum wage right now, federally, is $7.25. I’d like to know what it would be if wealth disparity hadn’t increased so dramatically! But I doubt we’ll ever get that number; discussion on that if forbidden.


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