Hunger in a World of Plenty

by Avi Smolen

There are many big questions to ask about the causes of hunger today:

  • Does it occur because there is not enough food for everyone?
  • Does it occur because of climate change?
  • Does it occur because of insufficient infrastructure?

The simple answer is that none of these are the simple causes of hunger today. There is enough food today to feed everyone on the planet, though the wealth inequality means that some people go hungry while others struggle to lose weight (U.S. obesity epidemic). Climate change can lead to insufficient rain or floods of it that kill cro

ps and therefore affect the quantity of food available. Yet thwre are also advanced growing techniques that will allow us to maintain an adequate supply of food, at least for the near future. (Both climate change and wealth inequality are major issues about which we should be concerned.) Infrastructure isn’t the problem either. While in some places poor roads or lack of railroads can hamper the distribution of food, there is no reason that local communities cannot grow food nearby.

Panel from "Hunger in a World of Plenty" - (left to right) Vice President for Africa Programs Dr. Idrissa Dicko (The Hunger Project), Director of Education and Community Engagement Stephanie Ives (American Jewish World Service), Senior Campaigns Advisor Rohit Malpani (Oxfam America), and Senator Kirstin Gillibrand's constituent liaison/immigration caseworker Julina Guo (moderator) are introduced by Oxfam Action Corps NYC Co-Leader - Arielle Cahill-Hassid.

Photo by Adam Fischmann

At the event “Hunger in a World of Plenty,” sponsored by Oxfam NYC Action Corps, American Jewish World Service, Union Theological Seminary and The Hunger Project, these were the topics of conversation. After a screening of the film by the same name, a number of panelists discussed food justice issues affecting world hunger today. The issues are quite complex, but I was left with a few major takeaways.

  1. The fluctuation in food prices is caused by excessive capital in commodities markets leading to speculation (in addition to real factors such as weather and 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 system they will be able to provide for themselves, they will be less dependent on imported food, and will be 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. Avi is also an active volunteer with Oxfam Action Corps NYC.

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