Changing Politics of Hunger: 1999

by James V. Riker

by James V. Riker

Bread for the World Institute, Silver Spring, MD. 1998. Paperback. 138 pp. ISBN: 1884361072.
This book may be ordered online through Hunger Notes’ bookstore.

Bread for the World’s new report on hunger– celebrating BFW’s 25th anniversary– stakes the claim that we know how to eliminate hunger and have sufficient resources to do so in the United States and worldwide. “The end of hunger is within reach” within 15 years, asserts Richard Hoehn, Director of the Bread for the World Institute, in the lead article.

Empowering the hungry is the solution returned to by each of the dozen authors in this report. Each agrees that the right to food is more basic than almost any other human right.

One lesson Bread for the World has learned, Hoehn says, is the need to promote fair and democratic participatory structures, extending the insight of this year’s Nobel Prize Winner, Amartya Sen, that famines do not occur in any democracy with a free press. In another piece, Frances Moore Lappe extends this point, writing, “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but a scarcity of democracy.”

Much of the report deals with the trend of economic globalization: the increased role of trade, foreign investment, international financial institutions, and also with the distorting effects of media coverage. Vignettes are provided about hunger in Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, El Salvador, Indonesia, and North Korea. In the case of North Korea, the report argues that aid ought to “facilitate the rehabilitation process, rather than [be used] as a weapon against its withered Stalinist regime.”

Former Bread staff-person Kathy Selvaggio gives an insightful background piece on the movement to achieve debt forgiveness among the world’s poor countries, a movement deftly cultivated by Oxfam, and recently coordinated by Jubilee 2000. (The Winter 1998 Hunger Notes will have a special section on debt forgiveness and Jubilee 2000 initiatives). The World Bank and International Monetary Fund boards have begun to initiate debt forgiveness by poor countries under the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative, for which grassroots movements can take some credit.

Twenty-five years of domestic hunger programs are described by Leon Howell, tracing the fluctuations in resources given through school meals, food stamps and Women, Infants, Children (WIC). In 1997, total Federal food programs amounted to $36.4 billion.

Lynette Englehardt describes the grassroots responses to the welfare reform recently enacted in the United States, where the number of people on welfare fell below 10 million people for the first time since 1970. Since 1996, welfare caseloads have fallen dramatically, 25 to 40 percent in most states (0 percent fall in Nebraska at the low end, and 80 percent in Iowa at the high end). As a result, charities have found food needs have increased since the 1996 welfare bill, adding that needs may swell further. And because the 1996 act established a five-year lifetime limit of benefits for the typical participant, there may be a dramatic increase in those seeking assistance in the not-too-distant future. Job placement may not address the realities of everyone: “The marginally employable may or may not find– and keep– employment, depending on the support available to them,” Englehardt writes, who adds, “Much is still unknown about one of the largest social experiments in U.S. history.” In citing lessons of recent experience, Englehardt calls for more grass-roots coalitions: “Local groups must monitor welfare reform’s effects in their communities and raise their voices regarding necessary changes in the welfare reform law.”

In the end, the report argues for creative political action, such as, “the linking of people across borders [to] bear witness through joint political action.” The authors also exhort the reader to vote and run for office.

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  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
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