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Friday, 01 June 2018 06:17

World Hunger Day Came and Went and Hardly Anyone Noticed

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hungryjpgday2Without a change in our capitalistic economic system, hunger will persist. (Photo: Justin See)

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World Hunger Day came and went on May 28, but you would be hard put to find mention of it in the mass media. That is remarkably negligent considering that approximately 800 million people are estimated to go hungry everyday. That is according to the World Hunger Day website, which also notes that an estimated 60 percent of the world's hungry are women and 96 percent are in developing nations.

However, hunger is not limited to nations that are economically struggling. According to Feeding America,"41 million Americans struggle with hunger, a number nearly equal to the 40.6 million officially living in poverty." In a feature article, National Geographic Magazine elaborates on that figure:

Two-thirds of [households struggling with hunger] with children have at least one working adult -- typically in a full-time job … Privately run programs like food pantries and soup kitchens have mushroomed too. In 1980 there were a few hundred emergency food programs across the country; today there are 50,000. Finding food has become a central worry for millions of Americans. One in six reports running out of food at least once a year. In many European countries, by contrast, the number is closer to one in 20.

For those who qualify, the US government offers SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) subsidies, but the aid is often insufficient. Furthermore, the SNAP program is under siege by the Republican Congress, with a $4 billion cut in assistance signed by Trump last year. Further efforts are being made to reduce SNAP's allotment in this year's farm bill in the House.

Hunger, then, is a worldwide problem that is caused by many factors. The most significant is a capitalistic economic system that emphasizes individual responsibility for earning enough money to feed one's family. Feel-good efforts to end hunger worldwide and in the US are doomed because poverty, like hunger, is built into the economic order. Capitalism is built on the assumption that there will not be full employment -- or in many cases adequate compensation. Thus, a certain number of people are condemned to being poor and inadequately supplied with food.

Furthermore, whether in the developing world or the United States, some of those individuals with families who are "food insecure" actually have jobs, as noted above. However, the work does not pay enough to eliminate the threat of going to bed hungry.

There are other factors that play a role in international hunger. They include wasted food, non-sustainable farming, crop diseases, corporate agriculture that stifles local farming and wars that prevent use of arable land, among other influencers.

The stingy coverage of World Hunger Day does not mean that there are not individuals proposing "solutions" to the world hunger problem. Generally, they do not suggest changing the economic structure that facilitates hunger, but instead focus on two areas: the technology of producing food and changing patterns of consumption. All of these efforts take place amid a burgeoning world population that will require more food for more people.

In an article entitled, "Food Waste Enough to Feed World’s Hungry Four Times Over," Inter Press Service interviewed Alessandro Demaio, chief executive officer of the Norway-based EAT, an organization promoting healthy and sustainable food. Demaio offered several ideas to reduce the hunger crisis and meet the needs of a growing world population. Demaio made these suggestions with a goal of achieving them by 2050:

  1. Shift the world to healthy, tasty and sustainable diets;

  2. Realign food system priorities for people and planet;

  3. Produce more of the right food, from less;

  4. Safeguard our land and oceans; and

  5. Radically reduce food losses and waste.

About 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year, that’s an estimated one in three mouthfuls of food every day. In poorer nations, this waste generally occurs pre-market and can be part-solved by simple technologies in supply chains including transport, packaging and refrigeration. Technological interventions such as precision agriculture or investments in post-harvest processes will make huge differences.

In wealthier countries, the majority of waste occurs after market, in supermarkets and in our homes. This is where buying less but more frequently, avoiding impulse buys and taking measures to reduce the “buy one get one free” that incentivize over-purchasing, are all key.

Perhaps these benchmarks are worth achieving, but they still don't address the issue of those who are hungry and cannot afford an adequate diet. Although it is of value to designate a day for World Hunger, it is not sufficient to propose new ways of growing crops and consuming them. Demaio's ideas are all seemingly well-founded, but they don't alter the economic system that makes poverty and hunger inevitable.

To end hunger, there needs to be a transformative change in the current capitalist system that deems some people disposable.