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Food Justice and Our Right to Food – The Fight Against Hunger
A Conference Concept Paper
The United States is a nation with an abundance of food, with sections of the country deemed “the world’s breadbasket” for the massive volumes of food they produce then send out across the U.S. and the world – and sometimes throw away for the sake of the market – for both the 1% and the 99%. Yet, the US also has broad swaths of areas deemed “food deserts” – meaning areas where its residents have limited access to food stores, farms and other sources of readily available healthful food. In Washington, DC, we have the 5th highest food costs in the nation while simultaneously undergoing rapid gentrification. This condition has led to the rise of efforts by consumer groups and even the US Department of Agriculture to support such alternatives as community gardens, farmers markets, food banks and pantries, cooperative grocery stores, and other strategies to meet this most basic of human needs – that mostly affects both the working and non-working poor.
The idea for this conference crystallized as we discussed this area becoming more of a food desert with the rumored closing of the only Safeway in this area of Ward 7 for an unspecified time for renovations and what we would do about it. Why do we have some areas of cities with food deserts next to others without? Study shows that it is nearly the same in most cities with the food deserts being concentrated in areas populated by the working class, whether employed, semi-employed, unemployed, uncompensated – pointing strongly to the class nature of this problem. Hunger in our communities is strongly linked with numerous problems and negative health indicies, suggesting hunger is really a health problem. These same communities are also often plagued by police brutality and high incarceration rates, as well as declining numbers of safe and affordable housing options. We are being divided between those without any being sacrificed for those with many. Hunger is real – but we can solve it, primarily because we are the only ones who can and will.
A conference is proposed for early 2018 to offer an opportunity to bring various people together to educate and be educated about hunger, food production, food access, food resources, food distribution, and to help create and develop organizations to fight hunger everywhere we find it, among our various constituencies of the 99% – mothers, fathers, children, families, elders/seniors, single adults, workers, people of color, LGBTQI, transgender, and all oppressed groups. We are seeking to learn as much as we can about the subject of hunger through a variety of study schemes that will illuminate the class nature of our problem, promising to share the information as soon as we receive it as widely as possible; and to work with participants to craft solutions for the numerous problems we identify.
Why this conference and why now? There are historical roots to our challenges with hunger, some of which are even reflected in policy. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was the first Defense Act passed after WWII when advocates emphasized that it was the US government’s failure to invest in its school children that resulted in so many young men having been disqualified for military service for nutritional deficiencies. The School Breakfast Program (SBP) was operated as a pilot until the 1960s when the Black Panther Party (BPP) launched its Free Breakfast Program as one of its Survival Programs; it fed so many hungry black children that the church community was embarrassed and the federal government had trouble convincing its allies that BPP was merely a domestic terrorist group. Today, we are confronted by a new administration that threatens to cut many programs that provide support to our communities, various programs that meet critical needs, including especially food programs, like: SNAP (Food Stamps), WIC, Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, School Meals (NSLP, SBP, After School Snacks/Supper, School Milk), Child & Adult Care Food Program (for children/adults in day care), and Senior Feeding programs like the Commodity Supplemental Food (CSFP) and Congregate Meal Programs. We must do what we can knowing that we have a right to food, and mount our fight against hunger in the face of a system that does not support our interests.
“Food scarcity is not the problem, but the scarcity of real democracy protecting people’s access to nutritious food is a huge problem. So, fighting hunger means tackling concentrated political and economic power in order to create new equitable rules. Otherwise hunger will continue no matter how much food we grow.”
- excerpted from Backgrounder, World Hunger: Ten Myths by Food First co-founders Frances Moore Lappe & Joseph Collins
The fundamental question we will be addressing through this conference is one that is rarely asked in any of the various sectors of the food community – the question of Why is there hunger in our country, reputed to be wealthiest nation in the world? When necessary goods and services - i.e., food, clothing, health, housing, education, energy, and a fair forum for obtaining our rights to these things - became commodities, the problems of ordinary people are heightened, this despite the fact that our class, the working class, the 99%, is the one that makes and produces EVERYTHING. Yet, we accept the existence of hunger as a normal course of affairs. We live under a [food] system that makes its money off of the suffering of the people. The divide and conquer aspects of that system play a critical role in the development or its lack thereof, in a fight for better, safe, affordable, more nutritious food. The challenge is that safe, better, affordable, more nutritious food does exist, just not for poor, working people.
One of the things we want to come out of this conference is to use it to bring us closer together and better understand the causes of hunger; to equalize the uneven development that currently exists within the food community; a clearer understanding of the existence of agribusiness that controls the food in our communities, country [and the world] and the uneven playing field it presents [i.e., Monsanto, Kraft, Walmart, to name a few, and USDA, which helps to justify its profiteering]; a goal that is both short and long-term.
For the long term, we'd like to see an organization coming from this conference that, using its knowledge of the food community and struggles, pulls together a similar conference annually or biannually or a way of communicating with each other once or twice a year, sharing our successes and failures; that brings us closer to a lot of our goals of ending hunger; and crafts strategies that both ends public policies that maintain hunger while crafting corollary strategies for policies that both empower people and end hunger. To support these goals, we also plan on a booklet coming out of the conference organizing that concretizes and explains our efforts and the work.
We also see our local/regional/national effort as one that can be replicated in other jurisdictions. The booklet coming out of this, our ad book, will have instructions within to guide others on making use of it as a tool both to raise funds and to record the history of their work.
An Essay on Food Justice Conference:
Between the 2 of us, there are more than 70 years of
organizing experience and at least 50 conferences of all sorts, in and out of the country. All of this is being said to give a hint that as a subject of conference organizing goes, of course we could learn a lot, but we do know something – mainly, the A B Cs of organizing a conference. We did an information search on a number of questions related to hunger, and we divided the hunger tasks/business into 4 categories: direct services, i.e., making & delivering meals, in a kitchen or the park; hunger advocates, in most cases people paid by liberal think
tanks/lobbying organizations; small urban/suburban farmers; & food banks & pantries. Those were the areas that
we confronted in the production and distribution of food stuff for the poor and working poor. It appears that most of these activities are geared toward feeding the poor or victims of this political experiment called capitalism. From our studies, we’ve learned that 1 of every 6 children go hungry in this city, and most people don’t know that our
government pays farmers not to grow food and even destroys food, both produce and feed animals.
A good number of people are operating from the Christian belief that “the poor we will always have with us”without understanding today that the US alone has both the technology & the resources to feed every man, woman & child in the US (meaning provide them with at least 2900 calories a day) and to put huge dents in the world’s hunger problem. We know and believe after reading in the Guardian that last year a very small number of people made $6 trillion beyond what they made the year before, that there is a clear indication someone is getting very rich from the goods & services we produce – which is where that $6 trillion comes from. So the question is
asked, why is there hunger? Although there are answers to these questions, the question is not there is not enough nutritious food, nor there is not enough food, nor where do the food deserts come from. When we were writing our prospectus we mentioned that where there are food deserts there are also high incarceration rates, low
education rates, and a high number of negative health indices. One could think that these facts are neither accidental nor coincidental.
The answer to why is there hunger could and should be equivalent to that of why did my car run out of gas? We believe that that is by design and NOT by accident. We are basing much of our theory and practice on
the work of the authors of Food First’s ‘World Hunger: Ten Myths’ and their 40 years’ work in this area. We recognize that our error has been expecting people to read this document, which, as educators we should know better! In the organizing of this conference we find that there has been substantial resistance to this way of thinking and talking about this subject or, to quote Food First, “the way people think about hunger is the greatest obstacle to ending it.” The first myth in the Ten Myths document is “too little food, too many people.” And the document responds, “Food scarcity is not the problem, but the scarcity of real democracy protecting people’s access to nutritious food is a huge problem. So, fighting hunger means tackling concentrated political and
economic power in order to create new equitable rules. Otherwise hunger will continue no matter how much food we grow.” Then, in Myth 10: “power is too concentrated for real change – it’s too late!” the response acknowledges that it “is no myth that economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few… [and] in the eyes of
some, we’re returning to feudalism” asking “how did feudalism end? People stopped believing in it!”
And finally, the document wraps up “In such a time, courage is key. To be part of the solution means being willing to take risks, including challenging oneself and others to rethink ideas so taken for granted as to be like the air we breathe. We can seek out and draw lessons from the courage of those the world over – many who might appear powerless – together building democratic solutions to needless suffering and creating life-supporting societies.” What we want to look at are all local, state, and national laws that ensure hunger.
YOUR COMMENTS AND RESPONSE TO THIS ESSAY ARE MOST WELCOMED BY THE AUTHORS.
“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”
- Dr. MLKing, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize address, 1964
- Michele & Rick Tingling-Clemmons, 11/4/17
Response TO 1st Food Justice Essay
This essay by Margaret Morgan- Hubbard, founder of Eco-City Farms in Bladensburg Maryland with minor edits by
Michele & Rick Tingling-Clemmons, officers in Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington and the principal
organizers of Food Justice & Our Right to Food, a conference planned for March 2018 in Washington, DC, was
in response to their essay on the challenges of organizing the Food Justice Conference focused on the question of
why there is hunger in the US with all its wealth and food productive capacity.
One of the brutal facts of today’s world is that many people, particularly children, are going to bed hungry many days of the month. This is true even if the family has SNAP, WIC or other government food program assistance. “Why hunger in America?” the country with great wealth and resources, has been questioned
for some time. The answer we know now is not because there isn’t enough food. The answer is there isn’t enough will to change what is a very inequitable food system, which not only leaves lower-income working people hungry but renders even the middle classes starved of nutrients and healthy food options. We are a nation of under-fed and under-nourished people in a Land of Plenty.
Why? How does this happen? We’ve asked these questions before when we realized that far too many families are also homeless, jobless, deprived of medical care. It is because we, the people, allow it,
tolerate it, think it’s inevitable, are so busy trying to survive ourselves that we turn away from ugly truths about the country we have built. The answer is that there is an unreconcilable conflict between the
democracy we say we want and the economic system we established to support that democracy. Our democracy says all people regardless of human condition are entitled to basic rights and needs and that
the job of government is to ensure that those rights are protected and needs are met. But at the same time, our economic system allows for some people to amass tremendous wealth and power, will others
have nothing. And the concept of equity and fairness are thrown out the window.
While our food system is not the only unjust piece of today’s social and economic America, many people have been working to shed light on it in the past few decades and to address its failures, both piecemeal
and systemically. We have become urban and rural farmers, nutritionists, chefs, food truckers, food justice advocates, food bank and pantry workers—in an attempt to improve the quality and quantity of real healthy food that is available to real people. We realized that if people had access to healthy, nutrient-rich food,
they might not get the diabetes, cancer and heart attacks that are killing working Americans at alarming rates, and feeding the pharmaceutical industry’s profits on our failing health. If our food system did not grow so much of our food with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, we might not contaminate our bodies
and might be able to prevent disaster from negative health outcomes that hit rich and poor alike.
We also are discovering that while food is mega business in America, farmers and food workers are at the bottom of the economic pyramid, earning less than a living wage for hours of hard work and marginal
living. Our food system is literally built upside down. Those who do the most for us are paid and valued the least, unless they are launched into celebrity-hood, like a handful of mainly white, largely male chefs or restauranteurs. The rest of us barely eke out a living growing, preparing, marketing, serving, and cleaning
up after food.
Why is this? Who suffers? Who benefits? How do we fix this? That is the subject of our conference. We look at the entire system to make sense of it and invite you to join us. There is nothing that gets
addressed, fixed, and made fair and just without shedding light on it and we, the people, taking consolidated action together on it. Let’s fix our broken bodies and our food system together.