WHY DOES THE RIGHT TO FOOD MATTER?
Nearly half a century after the first food bank opened its doors and proliferated across the country, the U.S. has failed to end hunger. Meanwhile, the food banking model is being exported to countries around the world.
By simply defining the problem as hunger, the approaches to ameliorate it have been largely limited to increasing the availability of food through a focus on yields (consolidating farm land to produce large quantities of staples), access (capturing and distributing corporate food waste) and protecting eroding and underfunded government nutrition assistance programs.
Poverty is the root cause of hunger.
Food and nutrition security is caused by poverty, and intersects with a lack of affordable housing, unemployment and low wage employment, health care costs, and systemic racism and racial discrimination. Since 1979, wages have remained stagnant as the cost of living and food has skyrocketed. Even with multiple working adults in the household, in the United States many still can’t afford to buy enough food to feed their families or meet other basic needs. More than forty percent of those who benefit from SNAP have at least one full time working adult in the household. For those living in poverty, the dominant economic paradigm does not apply. No matter how much hard work an individual puts in, for many, poverty is a closed-loop circuit with little to no room for upward mobility.
A Corporate-Controlled Food System Ensures Industry Profit - Not Healthy People.
Decades of farm policy has created industrial-scale farms, consolidation of the food chain among a handful of corporations that grow, distribute and export more fuel than food. Corporations have “rights” that protect the freedom to formulate foods that cause addiction behaviors, protect the freedom to market unhealthy foods even to children and communities impacted by diet-related health issues, and to pay less than living wage salaries. Market concentration in the food processing and retail sectors, and downward pressures on independent food businesses further erode the ability of communities to shape their own food environments, ensure their physical and mental health, and build people-centered food systems on the pathway to food sovereignty.
Charity should not replace human rights.
A reliance on corporate philanthropy and charitable food distracts from addressing the root causes of hunger. Many corporations and food businesses donate food they have deemed at risk of being wasted and can receive a tax credit in return. Taking on the role of receiving and distributing recovered food is an extensive network of nonprofit hunger relief organizations that has grown exponentially over the past 30 years. Capturing food waste and giving it to people in need is seen as doing good – and it’s easy and even incentivized. And yet, such food gifts reinforce the power and profits of an industrial food sector that revalues its waste through hunger-relief networks. While corporations receive tax benefits for donating food, the people receiving such food have little choice over what is offered, and whether it serves their health needs or not. The focus of charitable food is nearly always on meals served, pounds of food delivered, and full bellies. Absent from accountability in this system are issues of overall nutrition quality, diets suitable for people facing health issues, and personal dignity. Millions struggle to secure access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food on a regular basis.
The U.S. Approach to Hunger Depends Too Deeply on Food Charity.
Food banks, food pantries, and other food access organizations unquestionably do admirable work with largely inadequate resources. Their contributions amount to a fraction of the response to hunger in the United States and are supplemented by and deeply intertwined with government food support programs. Federal programs provide the bulk of the food access programming to states through cash-equivalent transfers to low-income households; institutional meal reimbursements in schools, daycares, and senior centers; alongside commodity food provided to food banks. Yet again, these funding streams are captured by large corporate food system actors, many of whom fail to ensure adequate standards of living for their employees and indeed benefit from the status quo of household food insecurity.
The perception that hunger can be solved through short-term and ad hoc emergency food relief by capturing corporate food waste ignores the role of other systemic causes of household food insecurity such as low wages and underemployment, corporate control of markets and labor, and racial oppression that displaces Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities from their land and waterways.