As Thanksgiving approaches, we tend to focus more on what we have to be grateful for. We have a bountiful food supply, symbolized at this time of year by horns of plenty, Turkey Day feasts at our tables and in trade magazines from Country Living to Better Homes and Gardens, among others.
The stewardship of sending food and other basics in the form of care packages to poverty-plagued countries tends to be ignored. I got a lesson in this dilemma as I watched a video at] my home church on Lutheran World Relief (LWR), a 64-year-old organization that sends donations of ordinary items we take for granted to help families and children in Third World countries that depend on agriculture for their livelihood and live on less than $2 a day in some areas. While we go to college in hopes of writing our ticket to success, kids in Mali get wide-eyed at the sight of pencils and paper to write with. LWR donors typically send simple things such as health kits, toothpaste, soap, needles and thread, quilts, and layettes for new mothers, 40 of which can be sent for $40.
That raises a major question about food. How can we get that need met in Mali where crops are meager and cows look frail and sickly? A true and false test we took prior to the video presentation included statements such as “There is not enough food to go around,” “The free market can end hunger,” and “We benefit from people’s poverty.”
Just tell that to the Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and other life-saving aid around the world. Stop Hunger Now’s vision is to end world hunger in our lifetime and has a mission to provide food and life-saving aid to the world’s most destitute and hungry in the most sustainable, efficient and effective manager. SHN’s volunteer meal packaging program packages and ships dehydrated, high-protein, and nutritious meals for crisis situations and in school feeding programs. Food, medicines and medical supplies are also sent to respond to emergency needs. A recent article in the Charlotte Observer puts the world hunger count at a startling one billion people, a 100 million increase in one year, according to United Nations figures. “The rise in hunger,” the article adds, “has also triggered riots and acts of violence.” (See www.stophungernow.org)
While food prices have dropped off since mid 2008 they are still 24 percent higher then in 2006. Another unnerving statistic is that the growing hunger rate has become larger than the growing population rate, a trend that began two years ago. While most of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries, all regions of the world have recorded a two digit increase in hunger.
The food issue seems to be the inability of producers to get quality food to those who need it most. There IS enough food to go around but the free market won’t end hunger unless the system is based on something other than profitable sale. Global improvements in food distribution logistics and infrastructure would reduce costs and travel distances for the benefit of well-fed shippers and hungry people. That takes public and private stewardship and cooperative planning and implementation. A solution to poverty would combine food stewardship with showing people in Mali and elsewhere how to grow their own crops better. It’s like teaching a man to fish so he can fish for a lifetime.
The U.S. food system has all the tools needed to send food to the hungry in an organized, efficient manner. The next step is to establish relationships with countries such as Mali and send our surpluses and provide our knowledge to areas who want a way out of poverty. Such an effort, combined with public education about the hunger problem to motivate private donations to relief groups such as Lutheran World Relief, or whatever organization has a presence in our communities. No one should live on $2 a day. The heads of large food companies and the people working for them sure don’t. Globalization involves social responsibility to peoples around the world. Stewardship is wise use of resources that produce the best results without causing hardship on either side of the food equation.
Profit is possible with global stewardship. It requires, however, a wider vision of what we can do with what we make to make the world a better place to live for everyone –not just the people in our own fertile back yard. Otherwise Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame, a 1960 CBS news documentary about the plight of migrant workers in America will trascend to global poverty that we all pay for in the end.