I remember my dad using the last $6.00 and some change in the jar by the back door to buy a box of shotgun shells. It was January in Iowa, sometime in the mid-80’s. There was snow on the ground and not much food in the freezer; but we had rabbit for dinner that night.
The “Farm Crisis” had not yet been named that, but we were in the thick of it. Even though we weren’t “farmers” per se, everyone else was, and when no one in your community has money to spend, neither do you. I think my mom was driving a school bus part time and my dad was struggling in his sales position- he sold petroleum derived products in farming communities, all of whom were going broke. That period in my mind is marked by scattered abandoned homes across Southern Iowa. Drive down any gravel road from about 1980 to 1989 and you would find an abandoned farmhouse; evidence of all the things going wrong, economically, politically and culturally in rural America. Do a quick Google search for “abandoned farmhouse” images and you will find that what I grew up seeing is now for sale on canvas. These early images in my mind have certainly influenced my perspectives on food politics and our now local-food revivals going on across the U.S.
I need to remember these things as I struggle to understand world-hunger. Even as bad as things got during that time for so many people, I’m feeling pretty certain no one starved to death. People killed each other, for sure, but death from hunger? I doubt it. So how to understand world hunger? The factors are so complicated. There are the sketchy-back door dealings going on in all countries depriving of citizens of necessities. There are the environmental factors of drought, flood, fire- many of which are human-caused. There are the long-term consequences of developed-world policies on developing world food sources. This one is perhaps the biggest one for me to grapple with- as I don’t think most people make the connections that our American and European perspectives on “market” crops has helped to create the current world hunger problem we now see.
I watched a video recently about a young boy and girl in Uganda. We’ve all seen the propaganda perpetuated (especially during the holidays, when aid organizations hope your wallets will be a bit more open). Starving black babies, covered in flies, white camera man, begging for your help. I’m always skeptical. First of all, there are all these race-class-nation issues that go unexamined. (Not to mention religion…but I won’t go there for now.) Like, yes, we in the developed world helped create this problem with our policies tied to aid, farm subsidies and cash crop programs so that now you can’t grow your own food and feed yourselves, but now we will swoop in and “rescue” you with bags of rice and corn. I just feel so bitter about all of it. And yet, the fact remains that as I struggle with my own weight loss in the land of plenty, children who have that same ornery gleam in their eyes as my own son, will go hungry, will die and their mothers will grieve. And the collective hopelessness of communities and nations struggling with the basic necessities to just LIVE certainly contributes to ongoing conflict, war, violence and hatred.
And so we must decide: Does every human being matter? Because if the answer is yes, then none of us who have access to a computer and the ability to read should be doing nothing.
I have to be methodical about my thought processes on this because I get a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of need in the world- in fact, the need on my island. First, I must decide what my gut tells me. And on these issues it tells me that despite all the bullshit of politics, racism, nationalism and mis-used aid: human beings are dying from no food. And the majority of these humans are women and children. So I have to do something.
I already do what I can to buy local food to support Hawaii-farmers, and I’m committing this week to begin regular donations to my local food bank. I also set up an ongoing donation to the World Food Programme. And because I like to know where my money goes, there is a very cool map which shows where WFP gets the food it gives to developing countries.
I can help. I have so much, I need nothing, and if everyone is happy and fed, there might be less fighting and a bit more peace. Maybe.
Things I found while writing this post that I love: