PODCAST

Rights Not Charity

Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice

Welcome to Rights Not Charity. This podcast series is about a big idea—ensuring everyone has enough food; not as a charitable gift, but as a fundamental human right. We’re bringing you provocative thinking about how to shorten the line at food banks instead of feeding the need for them.
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Rights not Charity
May 10 2021
3 mins
Why This Pediatricians Wants Us to Reenvision Poverty & Food
Lack of food or too much of the wrong kind of food can create a wealth of physical and mental health problems. Making matters even worse, society often blames individuals for making the wrong choices. But data shows us that diet related ill health goes hand in hand with inequality and poverty and occurs at disproportionately higher rates for communities of color. In this episode, we talk with Dr. Ben Danielson, a pediatrician with the University of Washington, about the parallels between food banking and healthcare. And, how both systems manage social problems and could benefit from addressing food insecurity systemically at the root causes level.     Host: Christina Wong, Northwest Harvest   Guest: Ben Danielson, University of Washington   Producer: Deborah Hill, Duke World Food Policy Center   Interview Summary   We know the benefits of healthy food and we see ongoing impacts on child health outcomes as a result of food insecurity and family reliance on food charity. In your opinion, what are the key issues that health and food providers need to address?   Well, I think this is an opportunity for us to be a little bit reflective and to step back. I want to ask us all: what is the narrative that we've created around food and food charity? What is the story that we're telling ourselves? Is it a narrative or a story about heroes who are philanthropically giving of themselves to put food in front of folks and the poor destitute who are somehow just waiting for this kind of charity to show up? Are we disempowering some populations and creating super powers in others? What is the story that we're telling ourselves about food charity? And if we think about that, what is the environment of food and the food and health system that we're talking about in that narrative?   So I wonder about charity because sometimes in our society, we allow folks with great resource to make their choices about charity in order to help support other parts of our society. When in fact, sometimes those great resources are attained because of avoiding a need to pay taxes, avoiding other parts of supporting our society's infrastructure. And we sort of pulled away one set of resources and then allowed a certain number of people to provide a small amount of resource in a separate way. And I feel like maybe that is a narrative, a story of heroes doing something heroic instead of a story of a society that everybody cares about each other, everybody has strengths, everybody is making sure that everyone else around them is strong and healthy because that's the way we all get so much better. So I wonder about this idea about charitable deferral, the avoidance of supporting infrastructure by providing a trickle of resources to other spaces. I wonder about that infrastructure and the wealthiest of wealthy nations shouldn't we have some basic idea of the components that we should all be should all have a right to, should all be entitled to make sure that we don't have to worry about? Because I will tell you beyond the caloric issues of food, the worry about food, the preoccupation with wondering about food is just as detrimental to the mind and the body and the soul of folks who deal with food insecurity every day. I wonder about this as a symbolic representation of poverty by creating this space where food is delivered in sometimes undignifying ways to folks whose food security is weak. How we create a strong picture of folks perhaps BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color), in different communities being subjugated, being marginalized. And that marginalization kind of being represented by this delivery of food in this way that we do it. I wonder about what we are accountable to, each of us.   I see in my role as a pediatrician, I watch these amazing kids every day. These incredible kids with just a look in their eye that tells you they can change the world for the better, they have all the skills and tools and hopes and dreams and potential to do something incredible. And all they need from us is the right space, the right environment, the right cultivation to allow incredible things to happen. I wonder how our narrative could be about celebration and optimism and strength and brilliance. And how we are all so much better when every one of us including the people that we never meet have everything they need to do their best.   There has to be a better way. From what you're seeing from your experiences and what I'm seeing working at a food bank, that there's a real power imbalance that is being perpetuated by the system. A system that's designed to help people, but we're maybe not helping people live to their fullest potential. And I feel like this pandemic has really shed a lot of light on those inequities. During the COVID crisis, food bank providers focused on simply getting food to people. But it has also got us thinking about upstream solutions, such as enacting the right to food in Washington and in other states. What has the COVID crisis revealed for you?   The COVID crisis for me has revealed the need for us to be willing to think with a slightly deeper sense of complexity than the simplicity that we've sought in the past around some of our deepest social problems. It's so important for us to think both in the moment and to think upstream. To think about the intervention and the prevention. About the spaces where people need us in these moments, and the spaces in which our investment in ourselves and in others creates a world where that need does not perpetuate.   I hope that isn't too vague and sort of up in the sky, but I do think this pandemic has brought out the many ways in which our social and cultural infrastructure has been designed to subjugate people. To hold people down even as we're doing symbolic acts to sometimes be helpful to people. That the greater system is designed to make sure that a poor person in this country knows that they are poor. For the person who has been poor and their parent has been poor, and the grandparent has been poor, that poverty is more likely to persist because of the way we have designed society. This pandemic has reminded us that we have systems in place, and I must say with shame, especially our healthcare system and our public health system, that are not designed to serve those who are the most harmed by illness, the most harmed by chronic disease, the most harmed by economic deprivation. We have systems that are perpetuating exactly what we've seen during this pandemic and have accentuated the differences in this society between those who access to much material resource and those who have been deprived over generations that kind of access.   This is the revealing. The COVID pandemic is not a new set of elements, although it is newly deadly to black and brown communities in ways that it is not as deadly to others. But it is more importantly the great revealer of the many ways in which our society has been infiltratively practicing a disregard and an indignity toward many other people in our society.   So then let's talk about solutions. What possibilities do you see for improving some of the conditions that you've been describing?   I think that we need to reframe our work around making sure that when we are doing things to support those around us, that promoting dignity is one of the most important components of that. I guess you can tell from my conversation, I think we all have a bit of reckoning to do. Each of us has our own personal reckoning to do that has to come with a deep reflection about our role and our place in society. What is the story we're telling ourselves about those that we see as other from us, not like us, not sharing our particular set of values, life experiences, or even melanin, how do we change that story? Because when you really look around you, what you see is an incredible potential. What is getting in the way? I think part of it is the way that we frame the things that we call problems in our society. Because out of those problems, there is so much more opportunity, there is so much more possibility. Just from a basic resource perspective, we are in countries that have amazing wealth and the potential to make sure that not a single person in those countries needs to be suffering. Not just the suffering of calorie deprivation, but the suffering of indignity. What would happen if when we designed programs to support each other? Based on the brilliance that we know that these communities around us possess, based on the desire that we all feel to make sure that we are treated with dignity and respect, how should we design these programs? We know that everybody should have a right to really making sure that they have the kinds of nutrients that allow their brains and their bodies to function at their best potential level. What should we be making sure every one of us has? It's ironic to me that as we make decisions that harm other people around us, they ultimately harm all of us. And until we make that fabric, that interwoven connection between us and the person nearest and far from us, we're not going to make better decisions, until we decide that there's greater joy and potential and possibility out there than there is deficit or lack or loss, then we're not going to make strong choices based on that optimism.
Nov 11 2021
9 mins
The Connection Between Hunger and Health
In this episode, we’ll explore the connection between hunger and health. Welcome to Rights Not Charity. This podcast series is about a big idea, ensuring everyone has enough food, not as a charitable gift, but as a fundamental human right. My name is Christina Wong and I'm the director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Northwest Harvest, a food justice organization and statewide food bank based in Seattle, Washington. Our guest today is Dr. Ben Danielson, a pediatrician with the University of Washington.   Host: Christina Wong, Northwest Harvest   Guest: Ben Danielson, University of Washington   Producer: Deborah Hill, Duke World Food Policy Center   Interview Summary   So my first question for you is we all know that access to good food is a vital component of physical and mental health. Can you help us understand the links between diet and food access and how it affects health?   Well, I guess we have to just start with the basics. Not having enough food, or the right kind of nutrition, at least, leads to serious and often deadly health consequences for so many people across this country and other countries as well. When you don't have enough calories that just means you don't have the kind of energy you need for work. It means that if you're trying to learn, you don't have the potential to be able to learn effectively. If you don't have enough calories, you can't play, and you don't have life fulfilling activities that are important to you. But it's not just about not having quite enough calories, it's also about issues of making sure you have access to the healthiest foods and the right micronutrients.   There are ways in which hunger can be all around you, and you might not realize it, because people might not look like they are underweight or starving. In fact, a lot of people who have nutritional deficits can be overweight and malnourished at the same time. This is the paradox and the painful reality of not having enough food for too many people in North America and Europe. These problems are really linked to the way we think of economic inequality. When a parent is low income, they might struggle to afford fruits and vegetables, and they might go for the higher calorie foods per dollar. But that higher calorie content per dollar may be lower on the nutritional scale. It may not be the right kind of micronutrients. It could lead to someone actually feeling full, but not having a fulfilling diet. This means that again, young people, old people, children are filling their bodies with calories, but not with healthy foods.   If we are part of a nation, part of a continent, part of a globe that cares about making sure that each person can fulfill their potential in the way that they're supposed to, it really needs to be time for us to rethink the way we talk about food, about the right to food, about access to food. Because it's more than just nutrients. It's not enough for a food company, say, to add a few fortifications to their cereal. It's not enough for a particular product to be enhanced with certain micronutrients. What we need to be doing is really talking about food differently, and talking about body size, and body shape, and body weight differently. We need to have new conversations about access to healthy food, the rights of all of us to get food, the chance for young people to grow and fulfill their biggest dreams because they have healthy diets. And, the obligation that we all have to each other to making sure that we can live our fullest lives.   I just love everything about your answer. I feel like I can really hear the care that you have for your patients in that answer. And speaking of which that paradox about caloric intake, when you're hungry, that leads me to my next question, which is when it comes to food insecurity and particularly the obesity pandemic, people tend to focus on individual responsibility. We often hear this framed as an issue about people making the wrong choices when it comes to their dietary health. So what is the role of personal choice in the food and health relationship?   I think that's a really good question. It taps into some of the deeper emotions we might have as a society around issues of food, and weight, and body shape. And it's important, I think, for us to break down some of those concepts and get into this conversation more honestly and more authentically with each other. One thought that comes to mind for me around this topic is we don't often talk about access to choices. So we find sometimes that we're judging people for the way they make choices about food, about other purchases, about other options they make in their lives, when we don't fully understand what choices they actually have and what choices they don't have. Sometimes it's more about the access to choice that drives choices, even unhealthy ones, than it is about how we make personal decisions. And I think we need to step back from that moment of choice and look around about the environment of choice. About the environment of opportunity, and of self agency and of decision making. And really understand how we as a society create options for folks that allow them to really make their fullest lives realized and make their best choices in those moments.   Do you have any examples from your medical experience to clarify that for our audience?   As a pediatrician, I work in a mostly low-income, really culturally rich and diverse community. The relationship of food to reaffirming the connectedness between people in a world and in a society that is often trying to rip people's connections apart makes for the need, the necessity of actually bringing food into spaces in a way that is reaffirming, reaffirming and demonstrative in powerful ways. That is an important cultural choice as well. And having the opportunity to gather around food, to celebrate with food, to say there is love in this space and we are naming it and claiming it partly by celebrating with food. That makes the idea of food, the choices around food, a little bit different than what calories are going into your body, what is the healthiest versus the unhealthy choice, what is going to be the right micronutrient in this moment. And it brings us into a conversation about food as a celebration, as healing in its emotional form, as part of our memory that is passed on through generations. That is actually important. When that is part of broader society, a broader place of opportunity, then it becomes less important about what happens in those moments of choosing, and becomes much more important about how else we allow people to remember their culture, to know their history, to share their stories, and to be part of generations upon generations, building resources and strength together. That sounds, I know, challenging for some people. Because we want to just focus on this moment of whether or not you picked the vegetable or not, when you had a few different foods to select. But we have to step back from that. We have to think about what is going on that allows this particular food to be meaningful to you, to be a strong memory to you, to make you fight back against maybe the way society is trying to erase your identity.
Oct 14 2021
10 mins
UK - This is Rubbish - The Plenty to Share Campaign
Interview Summary So let's get started. As a seasoned food waste campaigner, what led you to this innovative, illustrated explainer video approach? What's important about this kind of visual messaging? What are you hoping to achieve by it? Well, we wanted to start telling a different story about how we can solve these problems, and the root causes of food waste and poverty. We show how inequalities of wealth and power in the industrial food system generate waste and hunger, more often than not. Waste and hunger will ultimately continue unless we fix these inequalities. Charities are only ‘sticking plaster’ or ‘band aid’ resolution to food insecurity. What we're really saying with this campaign is that the UK’s distribution of surplus food is also only a second class solution for food waste issues too. So to see what the more systemic solutions for food waste are, we need to look at the root causes. And to do this, we need to rewrite the dominant story of how our food system generates food waste. So, let's look back at the history of this. Food waste as an issue has taken off really over the last decade, in the UK and globally. A fairly standard story has begun to emerge: Food waste primarily happens at the retail and consumer level in rich, industrialized countries, and it's down to individual failings of consumers to be solved with educational campaigns to change that behavior. Now, on the other hand, we have food loss, which makes it sound unintentional. Like it's been sort of lost down the back of the sofa. But it's actually food wasted in supply chain problems, where lower income countries which lack infrastructure, like storage and refrigeration, and apparently, have inefficient supply chain. The problem with this narrative is, by accident or design, it falsely implies that industrialized food supply chains in rich countries are effectively efficient and low waste. And to solve food waste in these countries, it's enough to leave it to voluntary commitments by companies. In other words, market innovation will solve food waste, with some role for social enterprises and charities to hoover up the leftovers. So, in this system, we need to modernize the supply chain of countries in the Global South to make them more efficient and emulate these systems. This apparently de-political approach to food waste has become ascendant, and gone largely unchallenged. But it is, in fact, deeply neoliberal: the assumption that businesses in the free market are fundamentally efficient, and any problems are usually down to the personality failings of individual consumers or perhaps state intervention. With these films and other resources, we basically aim to rewrite this narrative by explaining how actually the inequalities of wealth and power that occur in the industrial food system generate waste. They generate overproduction, price crashes, inflexibility over seasonal variations, and rejecting food for being the wrong size and shape. But not only that, they also distribute wealth and foods extremely unequally. So generating mass hunger, despite there being no shortage of food or wealth to go round, and it creates underdevelopment. The lack of storage infrastructure in the Global South, is not a coincidence. It's the result of generations of colonial exploitation, which continues in a slightly different form today, with multinational corporations often extracting huge amounts of money and resources from the world's poorest countries. Understanding all this means, that we need more systemic solutions than just taking food waste and giving it to people in poverty or embracing voluntary commitments by businesses. We need to design food waste and poverty out of the system in the first place. Our videos sketch out some of these solutions. Now, all of this is a more complex story to tell then just spontaneously rescuing lots of food waste for people in need. What we've tried to do with these animations is make this new narrative more accessible and really create these videos out of wanting to help reframe this conversation and communicate about the root causes and the deeper solutions for food waste and poverty. Thank you so much, Martin, for showing so clearly that food waste is a product of a dysfunctional industrial food system and no guarantor of food security for the poor. In that context, what policy and practice successes has the UK Plenty to Share Campaign had to date in reducing food waste and food poverty? And what kind of challenges are you facing? What do you think are the lessons to be learned? We're a tiny organization, so we pretty quickly realized that, if we want to win the kind of change we want to see it's not going to be an overnight thing. So, we decided we need to take the time to build a strong movement behind the systemic solutions and involve whoever we can. Our focus has really been on getting people used to our new way of framing the problems of food waste and poverty, and building a movement to advocate our systemic solutions. We put together a document called the Food Abundance and Equality Declaration, which now has over 40 organizational signatories, mainly based in the UK. But also including, Rights Not Charity, including environmental campaign groups, like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, also anti-hunger advocacy groups, like Feeding Britain. And I think, really importantly, some of the UK's largest networks of food aid and redistribution, including IFAN, the Independent Food Aid Network, which is the UK's second largest network of food aid providers, and groups like FoodCycle, and the Real Jungle Food Project. The Declaration states that food redistribution is only a second class solution to food waste and poverty, and we need these more systemic solutions by regulating food businesses to reduce waste, fairer pay, tax justice, and providing a strong social safety net. We've got the launch of the Declaration into "The Big Issue" magazine, which is fantastic. It's one of the world's most widely circulated street newspapers. So, we see signing the declaration as a first step to recognizing this new way of framing the issue, and we've started encouraging signatories to get more involved in specific campaigns for systemic solutions and feeling more confident to speak out about solutions beyond their bread and butter of food redistribution. We've seen some great collaborations emerging out of this already. A great example is the CEO of surplus food sharing app, OLIO, recently joined Tax Justice UK's campaigning the UK to back Biden's proposals to clamp down on global tax evasion. And as we're also conscious, we don't have all the answers, we've tried to give a platform to amplify the campaign, for the Declaration signatories. For instance, we've joined up with social justice Amp Best to amplify their call for a real living wage and stronger social safety net. In the UK, the biggest opportunity at the moment is opposing the cuts to Universal Credit, which is the UK's current main system of welfare payments. For the longer term, we'd like to advocate for things like, a minimum income guarantee, a form of Universal Basic Income, so that the UK social safety net is very strong, and people don't have to rely on charity to survive. We're also campaigning for systemic solutions to food waste. We would like to see food waste regulation and to make it compulsory for food businesses to report on and halve their food waste by 2030. We'd like to see unfair trading practices’ legislation to protect suppliers, from food waste being transferred onto them by their suppliers, and finally, creating a fairer food system rooted in greater food sovereignty. So we're hoping to hold an event in Parliament to give these voices a platform in front of policy makers. As for challenges, we've been surprised by how difficult it's been to get media cut-through with the project. The UK media reaction to food insecurity is dominated by food banks. So far, unfortunately, supermarket press releases promoting charitable food distribution are more publishable than the emergence of a big alternative civil society collaboration. But the rewards of the project have really been seeing this grass roots movement beginning to build. Ultimately taking the time to build that and set down roots is the most important thing. Thank you, Martin, you’ve given us a great deal to think about. One thing that strikes me very much is the way you're re-politicizing the issues of food waste and food poverty. It's not just a matter for charity. The Declaration you've launched is certainly proving to be a significant tool, fostering joined-up food, environmental, and income-based social justice campaigning though active civil society collaborations. It's looking at creatively developing systemic solutions to food poverty and waste. This is very significant. Your comments about the media likewise ring a bell here in Canada. Since the mid 1980s, the CBC, our publicly tax paid broadcaster, has been actively promoting food bank drives and donations making it somewhat difficult for them to report objectively on these matters. In that light, I'm particularly interested in This is Rubbish's campaign to disentangle solutions to food waste from quick fixes or remedies to food poverty, using food banks as transnational and national corporate go-betweens So, what practical role do you see food banks playing in advocating for the Right to Food? It's a great question, and this has really been at the center of this campaign. So, we see it as absolutely essential that we get food banks and food redistribution charities to be at the forefront of the struggle for things like a right to food, the greater wealth equality, and food waste regulation. The media reaction to food insecurity is dominated by food banks. They're the most visually obvious and filmable manifestation of food insecurity, so they often appear in coverage and become influential spokespeople on food insecurity, for the media and policy makers. They get a lot of attention. So if they call out government policies, it gets reported, as governments are often keen to use food charities as a so called moral release valve. In the UK, when former Prime Minister David Cameron's conservative government gave up a substantial part of its responsibility to end poverty, through brutal cuts to welfare spending, asked his invented Big Society, aka volunteers and charities, to pick up the pieces, this is exactly what was going on. A photo opportunity with some food bank volunteers, puff pieces about food bank volunteers are more popular with the media as well. It's a simple story for them to tell, and often newspapers in the UK get involved in campaigning for food redistribution. For instance, I remember receiving a Big Society Award for my own food redistribution work. It just arrived in the post one day, and I remember feeling so angry and ashamed at this kind of lazy co-option, as it was clear that they hadn't researched what the group I was part of was doing or about its back history. So, it's a lot more difficult though, for government to do this co-option, if food redistribution organizations are actively saying, "No, food charity cannot be the long-term solution "to the problem, we want you to do this instead." We've collaborated a lot with the independent food aid network, IFAN, the UK's second largest network of food banks. They are fantastic at putting this message front and center - that we want a future without the need for food banks, essentially, we want to do ourselves out of a job. And they're consistently raising press.re on the government to provide adequate financial assistance to people in poverty, long before our campaign started. The Trussell Trust too, the UK's largest network of food banks, has also been increasingly vocal about this.   In contrast, there are some food redistribution organizations that have focused entirely on pushing an expansion of food redistribution and strengthening government funding and corporate ties to achieve this. We hope to change that, and change the culture of these organizations, so that they'll join in with the movement, and that's the kind of movement that Plenty to Share hopes to create. Ultimately, people in food charities should be our ally. We shouldn't be seeing them as the enemy. Ultimately, the people working in them want an end to food waste and poverty. And indeed, some of the earliest examples of food redistribution in the US grew out of public outrage of the existence of huge crop surpluses occurring alongside mass hunger in the Great Depression. And the foundation of the earliest food banks in the 1960s grew partly out of concern over food waste. Following the 2008 crash, it seemed an understandable reaction, to the raising awareness of food waste. Coupled with seeing the devastating impact of austerity policies, many people have decided to take matters into their own hands and set up charities to redistribute food, to compensate for these failures of government. I must say I was involved in these kind of movements for a decade. For instance, I helped set up the Gleaning Network in the UK, which is a group who would harvest leftover crops from farms for charity. And I helped organize a chapter of Food Net Problems in London to build the consciousness of why we need rights not charity, and to help build the confidence of these groups to speak out in paid systemic solution.   So to do this, Plenty to Share tries to focus on the things that unite through food aid groups in acknowledgement that they don't want to be the long-term solution to food waste and poverty. Our focus has really been getting them involved in campaigns for those longer-term solutions. We use that as a bridge to help encourage them to do more policy advocacy, simultaneously, alongside that, we have tried to educate people about the limitations of food banks. The most important thing is uniting people around these long-term policies, which ultimately stop food waste arising in the first place and remove the needs for food charities.
Oct 7 2021
17 mins
What does Right to Food Mean?
Have you ever wondered why there are so many hungry people in wealthy nations like the US, Canada and the UK long before and especially during COVID -19? This is happening even though the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognized food as a fundamental human right These agreements hold nation states publicly accountable for the right to food. Human rights grew out of a recognition for basic human needs in the aftermath of World War II, just as the current “fight against COVID-19” has renewed their urgency. So what does the “right to food” mean and why does it matter? In this podcast, two guests define the right to food, and also how it differs from food charity such as food banks and food pantries. University of British Columbia Professor Graham Riches is the leading voice on the right to food in Canada. He’s joined by attorney and PhD candidate Laura Castrejon-Violante, who researches the constitutionalization of the right to food. Interview Summary So, let’s begin, Graham, you were the first to make the connection between food banks and welfare cutbacks in Canada. You’ve also written extensively about the Right to Food, including in your most recent book, ‘Food Bank Nations, Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food (Routledge, 2018) Well, first of all, thank you very much for inviting me, it’s a pleasure to be here. I think I’d first say that it’s crucial to understand that food is a basic human need which is essential to life itself, to nutrition and to health. Food, of course, is a marketplace commodity but at root it is a public good. It’s critical to social and economic well-being and in all cultures and all religions, it’s at the heart of family and community life. And yes, food is a fundamental human right, intrinsic to all human beings and to their human dignity. We also know, as you’ve said Audrey, the Right to Food is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It has been ratified by close to 90% of UN member states, but sadly not by the USA. The Right to Food is universally recognized under International Law as foundational to the Right to ‘an adequate standard of living, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions’. Significantly, in 1999, the UN clarified its meaning, declaring “the Right to Food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food, or the means for its procurement.” In other words, the Right to Food is about the right to feed oneself or one’s family with dignity, either through growing, gathering, or hunting for food, or in our market economy, having sufficient money in your pocket to purchase the food of your choice in normal and customary ways. Thank you, Graham for pointing out that choice and autonomy are key components of the right to a dignified life. Now, can you also describe the difference between food as a charitable gift and food as a human right? This is a key question. The Right to Food is not about charity, it’s not about feeding the need, nor about reliance on the happenstance of corporate food banking, redistributing leftover food, that is surplus or wasted food, to ‘left behind’ people. Of course, there’s a moral imperative to feed hungry people, but charity is not a right, it cannot be claimed, it’s highly stigmatizing requiring people to beg for food. The problem is, food banking has socially constructed hunger as a matter for charity. It thereby allows governments to neglect their public accountability, their obligations under international law, to realize food security for all. Consequently, food insecurity has grown and further been entrenched by COVID-19. Access to food is not only a food problem, but a matter for income security, addressing precarious work and interrupted earnings, inadequate incomes and social security benefits. And it’s also profoundly a land rights issue. Now, just as hunger is socially constructed, so are human rights, they’re meaningless unless we normalize and institutionalize them, which leads to my next question. Laura, as an accomplished lawyer and academic with a background in human rights compliance, why does the Right to Food matter? Thank you, Audrey. Well, the right to food matters because human rights matter. They make a difference. The Right to Food is ultimately a tool to tackle food insecurity, with a rights based approach. We need every single thing humanity has in its ingenuity arsenal to resolve massive challenges, food insecurity included. We need the certainty of science, the resolution of grass root movements, the inspiration of the arts, and we also need human rights because they function as guiding principles for more just societies. They serve, really, as a limit to the abuse of power. There is a debate about the effectiveness of human rights, but when assessing human rights, it is important to have in mind that they tend to be compared with an ideal scenario, when in fact they should be more fairly compared with an existing scenario, from before human rights were upheld. So, even though human rights are not 100% effective, human rights are a strong, world-recognized institution including the woman’s right to vote, demolition of the slavery, the declines of death in war and conflict, and the advancement of rights recognition for indigenous people, people with disabilities, and the LGBT community. A further argument supporting the rights-based approach to solve food insecurity is the interdependent nature of human rights. Different human rights offer a much needed approach to resolve food insecurity. The human right to just and favorable conditions to work, and the human right to social security, to health, to water and sanitation, to a healthy environment, just to mention some. Given the interdependent nature of human rights, if one becomes stronger, all human rights will benefit. If one is less so, others will deteriorate. By supporting the Right to Food, we are strengthening these rights creating a ripple effect that will impact poverty, the health crisis, the environmental crisis and everything in between. I would only add that in the meantime that we come up with something better than the rule of law to organize us as societies, it would be irresponsible not to call on human rights to solve our most pressing challenges. Thanks for highlighting the intersectionality and indivisibility of human rights. And also explaining how to harness their power to advance social justice issues. Now considering vast social inequalities that have only widened during the pandemic, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of progress to be made. So how can the Right to Food be realized? Well Audrey, realization really implies awareness. So, the first step is for every person to recognize that each of us possesses the Right to Food. Which is the main reason of this podcast, right? To spread the word. So, the second step is to exercise our Right to Food and here, I want to come back to the notion of the Right to Food as a tool. As any tool, the Right to Food needs to be used profusely, exercised, monitored and evaluated in order to assess if it’s properly performing or if it has to be readjusted or even strengthened. In order to use the Right to Food, all of our efforts aiming to eradicate hunger and advance food security would need to recognize and embrace two fundamental aspects. Number one: Right to Food principles and priorities. These are equitable and non-discriminatory principles. Gender sensitive with the focus on the most vulnerable, our marginalized groups from Indigenous, Black, Latin, Asian communities to migrant farm workers to low-income folks, and others. Right to Food principles ensure people and planet come first, not profit or political gain. Secondly, food is an entitlement, and under international law the state is the ‘primary duty bearer’. Food is not a favor, nor a gesture of assistance that depends on goodwill or corporate food agendas. Rather it’s the certainty rooted in the law and backed by the State apparatus. With entitlement comes the beauty of accountability and access to remedy. The Right to Food gives us grounds to ensure public accountability when any branch of government is not protecting, respecting and fulfilling the right to food. And to demand justice when the government or any entity – I am looking at your transnational corporations – are violating our Right to Food. Thanks Laura for laying out what it means for food to be an entitlement. I appreciate that we must hold governments accountable when they violate the right to food. And that we must not blame people for their circumstances of poverty. I’m curious now, what can civil society do to uphold the right to food? Civil society can and must support the right to food. This human right offers procedural rights that precisely allow this. These are access to justice but also participatory rights in the decision making process which lead to virtuous cycle of empowerment, food literacy, etc. UNCLEAR WHAT THIS LAST CLAUSE MEANS.  Acknowledging that we are not passive consumers of whatever the global food system imposes but active participants, agents of change, really. And then finally, transparency and access to information. This is why food insecurity data should be accessible, public and desegregated by gender, age, income, ethnicity, providing the palette needed to better understand the complexities of food insecurity and to monitor and evaluate food insecurity policies and programs. I particularly like your point about participatory rights. So in this sense, human rights are not only legal mechanisms but also a tool for collective action. Civil society arguably plays a crucial role in holding governments responsible for their human rights violations. For example, migrant workers, women and black, indigenous people of color experience disproportionately higher rates of food insecurity. And this leads to my next question: how can we move towards making the Right to Food enforceable? Audrey, let me first offer a definition of enforceability. So, enforceability can be understood as the capability to resolve a legal complaint within the legal system. Even though the Right to Food does not owe its existence to legal recognition, the expression and protection of this right in national law is crucial to its realization because the enforcement of the Right to Food in international law is complex and rather problematic, entrenching the right to food in national constitutions and laws increases its enforceability chances. Evidence shows us that the inclusion of social rights in constitutions translates into strengthening these rights because it allows them to be further developed through laws, policies and court decisions. We also know that the entrenchment of social rights in constitutions, laws and policies achieve social rights outcomes. So far, 29 countries in the world have already included the Right to Food into their constitutions. An increasing numbers of sub-national entities have adhered to this trend. In the US, for example, Maine, Virginia and Washington have proposed amendments to their state constitutions to include the Right to Food. All over the world, legislators are enacting Right to Food laws and administrations are implementing Right to Food policies and courts are upholding the Right to Food. How can we move them towards making the Right to Food enforceable? Well, by demanding authorities to fulfill their responsibilities by taking all the steps necessary to guarantee a dignified access to healthy, fair and sustainable food for all. Thanks for raising the issue of constitutional recognition for social and economic rights, such as the Right to Food, that’s so important. Now Graham, what specifically can civil society do to advance the Right to Food? Civil Society can actually assist in mobilizing human rights approaches to access to food by participating n the national UN Periodic Reviews of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This process takes place every five to six years, by which governments have to give an account to the UN of their compliance with these rights. One of the very interesting points to be made is that civil society is invited to participate in this process. Governments draw up a list of issues (LOIs) which are circulates them to participating civil society organizations (CSOs).  They could include food banks, NGOs and non-profit food, health social justice organizations which also contribute and comment upon the LOIs thereby engaging debate with their respective governments and the UN about the pressing matters. There are three specific ways by which one can assess whether the Right to Food is being achieved. Firstly, whether it is being respected by governments or if they are taking away peoples’ Right to Food by making food access difficult by, for example, permitting sub-poverty minimum wages or welfare benefits, by denying benefits, or through social spending cut backs. These would be noted as violations. Secondly, it concerns protecting the right to food, ensuring governments pass or enforce laws, regulating non-state actors, for example, regarding food safety and actions which protect the food sovereignty of Indigenous populations which actually is a land rights matter. In other words protecting against violations. Thirdly it is about governments fulfilling the Right to Food, acting in full compliance. In other words, the State as the primary duty bearer taking positive actions regarding, for example, employment, workers’ rights, living wages, adequate benefits, universal health care, social housing amongst a range of ESC rights. Also including the question of progressive taxation. These are all factors that are about complying with the Right to Food. Civil society has an active participant and critical role to play in this UN process by holding governments to account Thank you Graham. I really appreciate how you remind us that the Right to Food is something that needs to be insisted upon by civil society. Just to add on what Graham just mentioned, I have four words in my mind: Join, talk, right and vote. Join one of the increasing numbers of civil societies that are advocating for the Right to Food. Talk and engage in Right to Food conversations. Approach your community, your local food bank, for example, and ask them about their position on the Right to Food and the burden that has been unjustly placed upon them. Write your representatives and urge them to prioritize the Right to Food, for example, to place poverty reduction at the core of food insecurity strategies. And vote accordingly, search which political party is endorsing a rights-based on food insecurity and hunger, and in a few words, vehemently exercise your Right to Food.
Sep 30 2021
16 mins
What is Hunger in Canada?
Canada is among the world’s 10 wealthiest countries. Yet food insecurity has been rising. Around one in eight Canadian households experienced food insecurity in 2018. A figure that has likely grown, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada reported 4.4 million Canadians living in food insecure households in 2017 to 2018. The biggest number ever recorded. Like the U.S. and U.K., Canada has seen significant growth in food banks over the past 40 years, and many Canadians see food charity as a key solution to hunger. Interview Summary In this episode, we talked to Canadian food policy and food insecurity expert Valerie Tarasuk, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. She leads the PROOF Research program to identify effective policy approaches, to reduce household food insecurity in Canada. We asked Tarasuk how hunger and food insecurity are defined in Canada; who it affects, and solutions to address the problem. You have researched different aspects of food insecurity for many years, but let’s start with some basic definitions. Can you please explain for us the difference between the terms hunger and food insecurity? What do they mean in Canada, and why is this a problem we should care about? Well, I mean the meaning of those terms in Canada is probably very similar to the meaning anywhere else. That hunger is a physiologic sensation that signals the need for food. And food insecurity at least as we use that term in Canada, refers to inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. Where it plays out though in Canada, that I think is important is that the term hunger is often used in conjunction with food charity in Canada. So we see food banks for example, appealing to people to make donations to stop hunger in their community, or to make sure nobody goes hungry in their community. And so now we’re talking about a very short term sensation. Everybody can relate to being hungry, a simple idea. But that somehow has taken on a life of its own as a way to understand the problem with people not having enough money for food. And where it’s concerning for people like me. Is that going along with that understanding of hunger, is this idea that the way to fix it is to give food, make a donation. As opposed to food insecurity, where we’ve got a very tightly scripted definition and measurement of that problem in Canada and it’s routinely monitored. That’s really interesting. So if I’m understanding you correctly, if hunger inspires an emotional response and therefore feels the need for immediate action. While food insecurity is something that is measured. And you mentioned a little bit about how it’s measured. Could you go a little bit more into that for me? And talk about the extent of household food insecurity and who’s most impacted by it in Canada? We’ve been monitoring food insecurity systematically since 2005. And when I say we, it’s Statistics Canada that measures food insecurity. Where we’re using the 18 item module that was developed by USDA and is used in the United States to monitor food insecurity as well. It’s not perfect. There are only nationally representative samples with food insecurity measurements for some years since 2005. But we’ve collected a huge amount of data from these surveys. And so we know a lot about who’s got the problem and what’s driving it. The rate of food insecurity varies dramatically depending on where you live. In our most recent measurement which was over the period of 2017/18. The rate ranged from 11% in the province of Quebec to 57% in Nunavut. Nunavut is a very small population, but it’s our most Northern territory in Canada. And since monitoring began, Nunavut’s rate of food insecurity has steadily risen. So there’s dramatic differences across the country, but nowhere in Canada, do we even find a rate as low as one in 10 households being food insecure. In addition to geographic differences, we’ve got profound differences with respect to vulnerability around household characteristics. The mere fact that there’s a child in the household is enough to increase the probability of food insecurity. The problem is very much racialized, even though the vast majority of people who are food insecure are white, because that’s the population in Canada. We see stark differences in the probability of food insecurity amongst black and indigenous households, with rates that are two or three times, those of white households. Also, we can see very clear patterns in terms of the relationship between food insecurity and people’s income and assets and income sources, about two thirds of food insecure in Canada are in the workforce. So working but unable to garner enough income to make ends meet. On top of that we’ve got high rates of food insecurity among people on some income support programs in Canada, specifically Welfare, Social Assistance, and also employment insurance. So there’s a patterning of it that relates to both geography, but also social and economic variables that associate with social and economic disadvantage in the country. It seems like there’s definitely patterns in what you’re seeing in the data. What do you think this tells us about the causes of food insecurity in Canada? I think at the end of the day, food insecurity is about people not having enough money for food. And so it tracks very, very tightly with other indicators of adequate stable incomes and assets. And so what are the causes we’ve got society right now in which we have a substantial slice of our population who are unable to garner enough income, either through employment or through social benefits to manage. I would say that that is the cause. Layered onto that we’ve got the racialized aspect of food insecurity that can only be interpreted as a story of systemic discrimination and the legacy of colonization in our country. Sadly, even after we take into account income and assets and other sorts of variables that in the general population associate with food insecurity or increased risk of food insecurity to be Black or Indigenous you still have an elevated risk. And so it can only be interpreted as an issue of systemic racism and the flip side of it being white supremacy that in ways permeates our workforce our housing market, the administration of some social benefits, it’s insidious that problem. But it’s one that food insecurity among other things is forcing us to reckon with. My final question brings us to solutions. I know that I, myself as an American, we really think of Canada as having a strong social safety net. And it seems like that’s something that Canada prides itself for doing as well. Many Canadians though have come to see food charity as a prominent public solution to household food insecurity. So from your years of research and advocacy, how has food insecurity generally been managed or governed in Canada? It’s very interesting. I mean, we do pride ourselves in having a strong social safety net. And in fact although we use the same questionnaire as used in the United States, we code it differently. We treat it differently. So the truth is our prevalence of food insecurity is way lower than the U.S. And I think that is about the social safety net that we’ve got. But, that social safety net has never been designed explicitly to prevent people from being food insecure. And what we’ve seen over time is that it’s not doing that. So we’ve got these lightning rods, like the fact that the mere presence of a child under the age of 18 in a household is enough to trigger an increased risk of food insecurity. Or the receipt of social assistance, or employment insurance, benefits, is enough to increase risk. Those tell us that the safety net isn’t as good as it needs to be. But I think part of the problem is that the provision of income and cash transfers, which is the primary mechanism in our social safety net. That system is not explicitly designed to prevent people from being food insecure. So there are situations where people are receiving income supports, but they’re insufficient. Then we’ve got this other side of the equation, which is food charity. So the public face of the problem still remains food banks and the appeals continue that if you want to end hunger in your community or deal with this problem, give to your local food bank. We see charitable food assistance programs sometimes calling themselves food security programs. As if the fact that they provide people with food is providing them with food security, which we know isn’t true. So we’ve got a very strong social safety net that just needs to be made a bit better to insulate Canadians from food insecurity or income related problems of food insecurity. And then we’ve got this other side of the equation, which is this craziness of the continued promotion of food charity as if it’s somehow managing this problem. And many of us have argued over the years that that craziness, that illusion, that food charity is somehow managing the problem is part of why our social safety net or income support programs have not become accountable for this problem of food insecurity, in the way that they need to be.
Sep 23 2021
9 mins
What is Hunger in the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom has seen rising levels of hunger over the past 10 years. And despite being in the top five wealthiest countries in the world, demand for food aid was rising even before 2020, but it’s estimated that 15% of families with children have struggled to afford a decent diet since the pandemic began. Food charities have struggled to cope and have increasingly called for government intervention. But the problem is still poorly understood. To help us understand food insecurity and hunger in the UK. Who it affects, what’s causing it and what’s being done about it – we’ve invited policy and international relations researcher Hannah Lambie-Mumford from the University of Sheffield and the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. Over the last decade, she has studied the rise of food charity and the right to food in the UK and other European countries. Interview Transcript Your book Hungry Britain charted the rapid rise of food charity in the UK. And the phenomenon of what’s often described as food poverty in Britain. But even just 10 years ago very few British people had even heard of food poverty or food insecurity. Can you please explain to us what these terms mean? Absolutely. So all these terms relate to the idea of limited insecure access to food due to financial resource constraints. Food poverty as a term probably has the longest history of describing this issue in the UK. Household food insecurity in comparison, has become more widely used by policy makers or policy focused researchers. But there is still a tendency particularly in the policy sphere for food security as an idea to still be seen as an issue of supply. So there’s still very much a range of ways in which we talk about this issue in the UK. One of the interesting things to note when we talk about food insecurity and food poverty in a European context is to be wary of the terms in relation to how they are translated. So in our recent book on food charity in Europe, we talk about how the term food insecurity doesn’t always translate in terms of financial resource constraints and insecure access to food but actually can translate as food safety. And so it doesn’t always travel that well compared to food poverty as a term. In the UK, the press and the public debate has also used the word hunger increasingly over the sort of last 10 years or so. And there have been powerful anti-hunger campaigns based on phrasing around hunger such as the “End Hunger” UK campaign, which has formed between 14 national charities and organizations and faith groups campaigning against hunger specifically framed in that way. Thanks Hannah, for laying out those basic definitions. Particularly interesting to hear that the term food insecurity might not translate very well in the European context, but having read out those definitions what do we know about the extent of the problem in the UK? Absolutely. So the issue of measurement of household food insecurity in the UK is a really interesting one. And for many years, we have not had any systematic measure. In fact, the first government measure of national household food insecurity statistics were not collected until 2019 and first reported just the other month. So for most of this time we have relied quite heavily on figures from food banks and other food charities to give us some kind of indication. The Trussell Trust is the only national network of food banks in the UK and their statistics have been relied on heavily over the last 10 years. And as we know, and your listeners will know that these are really poor proxy statistics for household food insecurity but they did draw significant attention particularly following the rise of Trussell Trust food provision in the years following 2011 and 2012 when their provision rose very sharply. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) who is England and Northern Ireland and Wales’ food safety regulator actually did introduce a household food insecurity measurement to their food and use survey back in 2016. So this was one of the first government measures, but as I said the FSA operate in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. So don’t cover the whole of the UK but their first round of results did show that 13% of adults were only marginally food secure in 2016 and 8% had low or very low food security. Since then the FSA have continued to collect this data and other organizations, most notably The Food Foundation have collected their own food security surveys at various points. So the 2019 government statistics warned that levels of marginal household food security were at 6% , that 4% had low household food security, and that 4% of households had very low food security. At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK and the first national lockdown, which began in late March 2020 , food insecurity was estimated through a Food Foundation survey to have quadrupled since before the pandemic. So statistics that were analyzed by Rachel Loops from Kings College London showed that 16.2% of adults that were surveyed reported experiences of food insecurity since Great Britain went into the official lockdown and an additional 21.6% of adults reported feeling very worried or fairly worried about getting the food they need during the COVID-19 outbreak. And what we know about people who were more likely to experience food insecurity over this time during the outbreak these are consistent with national monitoring data on food insecurity. So groups at risk of poverty were at risk of food insecurity at this time. Groups that were particularly at risk included adults who are unemployed adults with disabilities, adults with children and black and ethnic minority groups. Self isolation, and the lack of food and shops in the early weeks of the lockdown in March 2020, obviously layered on an additional risk of household food insecurity for these groups as well at that time. So you’ve mentioned that household food insecurity often tracks on to groups who are particularly at risk of poverty, but what generally do we know about the causes of household food insecurity in the UK from the research that you’ve done over the past decade? I’m going to focus here on the structural drivers of household food insecurity and what we know about some of those in the UK and how they’ve changed, particularly over the last decade, as you’ve mentioned. So what we’re talking about here is factors that affect access to the food that is available to people locally and particularly factors that might impact people’s income. So whether that income is secure, whether that income is sufficient. And one of the key factors that has shifted in particular in the UK in the last 10 years there’s been changes to the structure of our welfare state the implementation of significant changes to social security and the introduction of a program called universal credit through which social security is paid. The entitlement levels of social security have changed significantly. And they changed after 2012 and many pieces of research which have been published since that time have highlighted the significant factor that these changing entitlement levels and processes of obtaining social security and other restrictions around social security have had on uptake of need for food banks. So these reforms to welfare were significant. Some of the biggest changes that we’ve actually seen to the welfare state in the UK since it was first invented all those years ago. And we’ve seen particularly in the relationship between welfare reform and food bank use reduce generosity in terms of what people are entitled to and how much they can receive through social security and also increased conditionality. So here we’ve seen where people get benefit paused or suspended and other kind of administrative elements which affect people’s entitlements and the money that they can receive. And many pieces of research since then have shown that there are important links between key interventions in this space, particularly around what’s called sanctioning of people’s social security has paused for a period of time. And also with the introduction of universal credit there is something called a five week wait where people have to wait in order to receive their first payments through the system, which can cause people incredibly difficult financial circumstances. Given what we know about systemic causes of food poverty what have been the primary responses to the problem in the UK? What’s really interesting about doing this interview now is obviously I’ve been researching this phenomenon for 10 years and it’s changed significantly over this time. And the way I would answer this question now is obviously very different from 10 years ago. So thought it would be useful just to talk a little bit about how things have changed. So the key responses we have to household food insecurity in the UK include in-kind food assistance as well as emergency income support. Food banks have become probably the most prominent and visible charitable food assistance support since the 2010s, I would say. And the form of that is driven significantly by the rise of an organization called The Trussell Trust and their food bank network. They were the first and they remain the only UK wide network of food bank providers in the UK. And they grew particularly fast after the 2011, 2012 year and the changes to welfare reform and other kind of austerity measures started to kick in. And whilst they refer to themselves as food banks many other countries wouldn’t recognize them as such in so far as originally when they were set up the idea was that they would collect food donations locally store food locally, and distribute them to local people in need. So it was a kind of local cycle of identifying where support was needed and providing that support with food locally. So facilitating of help your neighbor with food idea. Your listeners from other countries will know that’s very different from how the term food bank is used in many other countries across Europe and also North America as well where the food bank is more usually recognized as a kind of mid-layer or intermediary organization between donators, donations, and projects that provide food on the ground. So there are food banks, the way food bank is used in the UK often now refers mostly to actual direct providers of food parcels as well. And that’s another key kind of distinction within the broader food charity landscape in the UK compared to say, for example soup kitchens or soup rooms or meal programs. And recent estimates of the levels of food parcel providers in the UK are somewhere below 3000. So the independent food aid network is a network of food aid organizations, and they represent 500 or so independent food banks, but they’re really prominent in collecting data on food banks and food aid organizations across the UK and their recent work shows that in addition to their 500, they’ve identified another just over 1000 independent projects. And that’s in addition to the 1300 or so Trussell Trust projects. So that comes to about 2,800 food parcel providers. I can’t stress enough what a significant rise that is in a decade. When I first published my first Trussell Trust report there were 58 Trussell Trust food banks or something like that in 2011. So this is a phenomenal increase. And of course this doesn’t capture all of the projects in existence or the particularly informal projects. And won’t capture some of the projects that have arisen over the COVID period as well. We do have an organization in the UK which some of your listeners would recognize more as a food bank as a kind of intermediary and redistribution organization and they’re called Fair Share and they are a member of the global food banking network, I believe as well. So they do fit that model. Traditionally, they have redistributed food, more to community based projects that provide meals and others and not so much food banks. Although particularly over COVID that shifted, and it will be interesting to see what kind of longer term implications for their kind of support of food parcel projects, but beyond the food bank food assistance provision for the UK is made up of four countries, evolved nation governments as well have particularly important roles to play in social security provision. The four countries have different emergency payment systems in operations or income crises in operation across those countries, We have the Scottish Welfare Fund which is an emergency payment scheme in Scotland, the Discretionary Assistance Fund, which operates in Wales the Short-Term Living Expenses Grant which operates in Northern Ireland and in England there is not a national system such as the others have. However, the Department for Work and Pensions in London funds local authorities to run local welfare assistance schemes. But that data is not as readily available as for the others. But those kinds of schemes do play a role in where people can turn to for support for income crises. And also some of the campaigns that are ongoing at the moment do play an important role where the emphasis is to move towards income maximization rather than the provision of food. So where there’s a so-called cash first emphasis. And we’re seeing that particularly prominently in Scotland at the moment wrapped up in questions of the right to food and campaigns based in that way.
Sep 16 2021
14 mins
What is Hunger in the United States?
Did you know that 40 million people in the United States experience hunger. This is startling given the fact that the us is one of the richest countries in the world. Perhaps you’ve participated in a hunger drive at your school, have volunteered at a food pantry, or even experienced hunger yourself. So what is hunger and how do we manage this problem in the United States? In this episode, we talk to professor Janet Poppendieck of the Urban Food Policy Institute at the City University of New York, to explore some basic definitions of hunger and food insecurity, who it affects, and solutions to address the problem. Host: Rebecca De Souza, professor of communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth and author the book, “Feeding the Other: Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries.” Interview Summary So Jan, you’ve written three books on hunger in the United States, “Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat“, “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America“, and the widely read and critically acclaimed classic, “Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement“. Could you please start us out with some basic definitions? What do these terms, hunger and food insecurity actually mean in the United States? The term hunger has many meanings. It’s the signal that our brain send when we’re running low on fuel and it’s a welcome and necessary part of our biology, but when we can not meet that need, then it becomes a social problem, a problem for the society. In the US it has proven to be very difficult to agree on how to measure hunger, and so in fact, we have shifted in the last several decades to reliance on the term food insecurity to designate the situation that we’re concerned about as a society. There is an official definition of food insecurity, which is used by the United States Department of Agriculture in the measurement of hunger, and it’s simply that the excess to adequate food is limited by the lack of money and other resources. So a household is considered food insecure when they don’t have enough money and other resources to obtain sufficient food on a regular basis. And we do measure this problem annually, the Bureau of the Census conducts a episode of the current population survey in December, and generally releases the data on household food security and insecurity in the following, September, households are classified as food secure or as having low food security or very low food security. Thank you for clarifying those terms for us Jan, how both hunger and food insecurity are measured, and then for all that history as well. So you’ve been an anti-hunger advocate for decades now. So tell us, what do we know about the extent of hunger in the US and who is impacted by it? So, because of the annual household food security survey, we have pretty reliable numbers. And I wanna turn to the numbers from before the pandemic, because they were part of a long-term trend of an increase in household food security. So in 2019, before the pandemic, about 35 million Americans lived in food insecure households, and that was 10.9% of the population. And that was the lowest since the measurement began 25 years ago. And of course food insecurity is not randomly distributed, so the groups with the highest levels of food insecurity will not come as a surprise. Households with children were more likely to be food insecure, households with children under six were even more likely to be food insecure, and households with children headed by a single woman were very likely to be food insecure, 28.7%, as opposed to the 10.5% for all households. Women living alone and men living alone, both had rates higher than the average. And it was not as it never is in the United States distributed evenly by race and ethnicity, households with a black non-Hispanic respondent were twice as likely, nearly one in five Hispanic households had a high rate of food insecurity, 15.6%, as opposed to the overall 10 1/2%, and Native American households, one in four, was food insecure. On the other hand, white households were far less likely to be food insecure about one in 12. It won’t surprise anyone either that households with lower incomes were the most likely more than 1/4, households with incomes below 185% of the poverty threshold were characterized as food insecure. If you look at the figures for the very low food security, the pattern is the same, households with children, the households headed by women, and households of racial and ethnic minorities were the most likely to suffer this. If we turn to look at what’s happened since the pandemic, it’s quite distressing. Food insecurity in households with children has doubled to 27.5% now, so more than 1/4. Parents usually try to shield their children from food insecurity, so not all children in a food insecure household are themselves experiencing hunger and food insecurity, but the Brookings Institution shocked many people in mid summer by releasing a study showing that nearly 14 million children in the United States had experienced food insecurity in the third week of June, 2020 when the study was done, and that was five times the number for the full year of 2018. Feeding America, the alliance of food banks in the United States, now reports that 45 million people experienced food insecurity in 2020, and projects that 42 million will experience it, including 13 million children in 2021. Thank you for painting a very clear picture for us about who was impacted by hunger, both pre and post pandemic. Now let me ask you something that might seem self-explanatory, what causes hunger? Well, like the distribution of the problem, the causes will not come as a surprise. Fundamentally, food insecurity is an income problem not a food problem. So if we look at the situation of people who showed up in the survey as food insecure, we may wanna distinguish between those who are in the workforce and those who can not or should not work. Among those in the workforce, unemployment, under employment, and low wages are the culprits. And these are obviously aggravated by a lack of affordable childcare and by unregulated housing markets. For people who can not or should not work, ill health, disability, and inadequate public and private income provisions are to blame. If you look at the households that reported such high levels of food insecurity among children, 48% of them had someone working, 23% had lost a job, 13% were at home due to caregiving responsibilities, 8% were out due to ill health, and only 3% were in fact out of the labor force, people who were not typically reliant on wages as their primary source. And then if we dig a bit deeper to say, “Okay why are so many people in the United States in this situation?” We find the decline of labor unions, and a decline in protections for workers, the globalization of labor markets, the concentration of power in the hands of corporations and wealthy persons, and thus their ability to implement the austerity agenda of neo-liberalism, which resulted in a reduced capacity of government to assist inadequate minimum wages, inadequate income support programs. That was incredibly helpful, thanks. My final question for you is this, can you explain to us how hunger is addressed in the US, and what tools we use to deal with this problem? Especially since the pandemic, I think many people in the United States think of the iconic pictures of long lines at food banks as the way we have responded to hunger. But in fact, public programs are far and away the bulk of our response. The SNAP program alone, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, provides nine times the amount of food that’s provided by the entire Feeding America network of food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. There are 15 federal food assistance programs in the United States, and in a typical year they reach about one in four Americans. The fundamental approaches that are embedded in these programs, one is transferring food specific purchasing power to families in need, and that’s how the SNAP program works, with an EBT card (Electronic Benefit Program card) that works like a debit card at the supermarket, and the WIC Program does the same for postpartum women, pregnant women, infants, and children up to the age of five, with allocations of specific nutrient dense foods. And then we have programs that provide actual meals, the biggest of these are the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program that provides subsidized meals for children in our schools, some children qualify for meals that are free or at a very reduced price, other children purchase their meals, but the meals are still subsidized by the federal government. And then there are additional smaller programs that provide meals for children in daycare and after school programs, in summer programs that provide meals for seniors that provide groceries on Native American reservations. We have, as I say, 15 different programs, and still we’re not eliminating food insecurity in the United States. And in part, this has to do with the fact that all of these programs are . Generally speaking, they are based on assumptions about diet, on something called the Thrifty Food Plan, that is unrealistic about how much income people need or how much purchasing power people need in order to obtain an adequate diet. There are many barriers to participation, there are eligibility requirements that exclude people who are in need and procedural requirements that exclude people who are legally eligible, but can’t make it through the many hurdles between need and response. We know how to do this, we know what needs to be done to make these programs meet the need for food in our society, we need to eliminate unnecessary eligibility requirements, we need to base the both eligibility and program benefits on a realistic contemporary standard, we need to remove the three tiers of eligibility for school meals and feed all children as part of the school day called Universal Free School Meals. We know how to do this, we just need the political will to make it happen.
Sep 9 2021
13 mins
Why Mainers should vote YES on the Right to Food
America was founded on human rights. The right to speak out, to organize, to worship, but what we still haven't secured is the right to food. Although a signatory, the United States has famously declined to ratify the international covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights, which recognizes the right to food. As one of four countries in the world who have signed but not ratified, the US sites existing protections against hunger and food insecurity in Federal long. Over the past couple of years, a national alliance has been emerging to change that, and seek to amend state constitution to include the right to food. This group of advocates, state legislators, legal experts, community organizers, food and farm organizations, and those with lived experience of hunger, are coming together as a national community of practice to take action in their respective states towards securing constitutional amendments for the right to food. First is the state of Maine.   Prior to the pandemic, the US Department of Agriculture reported that 13.6% of Maine households are food insecure, a rate far higher than the national average of 11.7%. We can safely assume that figure is higher now due to the pandemic, if Maine is tracking with the rest of the United States. The Maine people face a critical choice and historic moment this November, to amend their constitution to declare that they have a natural inherent and unalienable right to food. The resolution that the voters will ratify was finally passed after three tries over six years, by 73% of the Maine house and 70% of the Maine Senate this past summer. Now Maine voters will decide if they want to enshrine the right to grow and access the nourishing food of their choosing, with dignity and self-determination in the constitution of the State of Maine. Welcome to "Rights Not Charity." This podcast series is about a big idea, ensuring everyone has enough food. Not as a charitable gift, but as a fundamental human right. My name is Alison Cohen, and I'm the Senior Director of Programs at WhyHunger, a global nonprofit organization working to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food in the US and around the world. Senator Craig Hickman is a Harvard graduate and a local business owner, running a successful organic farm and bed and breakfast with his husband. He served in the Maine House of Representatives for eight years, sponsoring fighting for measures that promote food sovereignty, protect individual rights and civil liberties, combat poverty and hunger, and support rural economic development. Senator Hickman currently represents Senate District 14 in Maine. He is the first black lawmaker in Maine to serve in both chambers of the legislature. He first introduced the bill that we're going to discuss today to the legislature in 2015. Welcome, Senator Hickman, and congratulations on clearing the legislative hurdles so that the people of Maine can decide the future of food and farming in their state. Sen. Craig - Thank you, Alison, it's great to be here. Alison - Heather Retberg, our other guest, is a farmer and homeschooling mother in Penobscot, Maine. Together with her husband, Phil, they live and work on Quill's End Farm, a grass-based farm and micro dairy. The health of the animals they raise and the nutrient dense food they produce is rooted in ecologically healthy, regenerative stewardship of the land. Quill's End Farm has been a leader in the efforts for food sovereignty in Maine toward community self-determination, food exchanges, seeking to protect traditional food ways, increase access to Maine raised food, and encourage more community-based food production. Heather is also a member of Food for Maine's Future, a community-based organization, working to build solidarity and alliances between rural people in Maine and around the world. Their farmer members have been pushing the local foods movement to incorporate issues like land reform and the need for political organizing to push back against the well-funded agribusiness lobby. Heather and Senator Craig Hickman have been co-designers and tireless advocates in the State of Maine for food sovereignty. The constitutional resolution for the right to food is a key stepping stone to securing food sovereignty in the State of Maine. Welcome to you, Heather. Heather - Thank you, Alison. It's good to be with you. Alison - So, let's get started, let's have this conversation. The right to food as a concept and practice goes beyond the right to be free from hunger. It encompasses such qualities as dignity, adequacy, and sufficient income, so that food isn't in competition with other essential needs such as healthcare and housing. The US does not legally protect the right of people to feed themselves according to these particular qualities, if it did, I would argue, we wouldn't see rates of hunger hovering at 11% of the population over the past four decades. The right to food ballot question is at its core about freedom of choice and accessing nourishing food. If Mainers vote "Yes" on the ballot question on November 2nd, what will it mean for Mainers' freedom of choice in accessing nourishing food? Can we start with you, Craig? Sen. Craig - I don't know that most people know this, but in 2010, The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates 80% of our nation's food, declared in US court that people "Have no fundamental right to obtain and consume the food they wish, and therefore have no fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health." They also claimed that there was no deeply rooted historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds. I think that the people of Maine would take issue with that. But our own bodily and fiscal health is not our own when the government agency that increasingly controls more and more of our food supply states that our right to our own health, our right to feed ourselves and our families, the food we want to eat is not a fundamental right of liberty. And when that agency prevails in court, because for the time being, the rule of law backs them up, well, the people are not well-served. Most people don't know that they don't have a right to the food of their own choosing. The people thought they did. If they knew this phantom right was being stripped away, little by little, and in some cases by leaps and bounds, on what legal ground will we stand if we cannot obtain the food we wish to eat, if you can't get your favorite food anymore from your favorite farmer, because your farmer has gone out of business. In the last 10 years, we have seen dozens of farm raids around the country. We have seen states suing farmers, farm customers suing states to establish their rights to acquire the food they wish. We have seen multi-national biotechnology corporations suing farmers for patent theft. We have seen seeds become the legal property of those same corporations here in Maine. We have seen an overly aggressive regulatory body tell farmers to their face that they will take their food away from them or find them because they have run a file of the law. We are losing access to the food we desire to the integrity of our food and to our own bodily and physical health. So if we vote to protect our right to the food of our own choosing by ratifying this constitutional amendment at the ballot box, we will shift the power away from corporations and toward the people. And I simply can't think of anything more important to Maine people than independence and liberty and freedom to work out their nutritional regimen as they see fit. Alison - Heather, you've been involved in this advocacy issue for quite some time yourself, and I'd like to invite you to share your vision and understanding of this right to food amendment from a farmer's perspective and from your experience in walking along this path, alongside Craig for the last 10-11 years. Heather - It's interesting to hear you frame the question that way. It doesn't seem like it's been 10 or 11 years, in a way it feels like we just started, and it also feels like we've been doing it forever. I came to this work, not at all as an advocate, but just as a farmer. The experience on our farm is our state's regulatory agency was such that in 2009, we were going to have to either stop several of the primary enterprises that we were doing, or be mandated to build infrastructure that was beyond the scale of our farm to afford, but also to sustainably continue. So I came into it thinking that our inspector had said that we should just go to our State Capitol and weigh in the process because lawmakers needed to hear from farmers before they changed the rules. So I came into it thinking that it was really about scale appropriate regulation, and that we just had to communicate with our legislators because they couldn't see what was happening out in the field, away from the State Capitol. But what I found out as it went along was that wasn't really at all the case. The more we asked questions about who is making those decisions and why didn't the people have a voice anymore, and why were we being administratively redefined. We came to understand that by losing the ability to not just control, but even have access to language and how we were defined, small farms could very easily disappear from the landscape. And indeed that is what had been happening in rural Maine for the last 60 years. So through that legislative process, we were exposed to a different idea and that was to instead work with our own community, to define ourselves and define our own food exchanges. And as we did that, again, we just kept asking questions, who's making the decisions right now? Who do those decisions benefit? What kind of relationships did we want to have in our community? And then how would we enshrine those values into law? And the further along we went, the more the conversation shifted away from a regulatory framework and more and more into an understanding that what we were talking about was rights. That people were losing the access to the food of their choosing. Losing access to healthful food. And we became pretty convinced that we needed to regain a voice in the decision-making that was some counterbalance to the industrial lobbyists, the grocery lobbies, the dairy lobbies, all of those better funded groups that because of their funding had more access to legislators and then also more access to law. So instead we came to our towns. We drafted local laws that represented the values and the relationships we were trying to maintain. And then over time, that led to meeting now Senator Craig Hickman and the then governor's office. We started working together and really kicking around how do we regain this power that we've lost to define ourselves and our food exchanges. After food sovereignty was recognized by our state legislature in 2017, we went back to thinking about this rights-based framework and working on language to ensure that in the most foundational, most powerful form of law that exists: a constitutional amendment in our Bill of Rights that we could ensure that people would have a right to food. That people would have a right to save and exchange seeds. And that people would have a right to grow and raise and produce and consume foods that they're choosing for their own health. And really regain that agency that this shift in power towards corporate control of our food supply and our food policy had stripped from us. So that was how I came into it. Alison - It's so inspiring and deeply nuanced, I think the way in which this has evolved and gotten to this point. When we were pretty comfortable, I think in the US and talking about civil and political rights, but deeply uncomfortable talking about economic rights, meanwhile, or maybe I should say all the while, corporations are gaining more and more in power. So at core, I am getting to understand this effort around a constitutional amendment on the right to food to be about so much more than the very, very important and necessary work of abating hunger. The right to food, this constitutional amendment, it's had legislative supporters, Craig, as I understand it, on both sides of the political aisle. Including Republican congressperson, Billy Bob Faulkingham, who was a co-sponsor of the bill. And often as we know, by inserting human rights into a political discussion, especially if we're talking about economic, social or cultural rights, there's a fairly predictable rift that emerges along party lines. So how have you overcome that hurdle in debate and in the dialogue since the beginning of your advocacy for this amendment? And why do you believe the right to food fundamentally should be a nonpartisan issue? Sen. Craig - Anybody who wants to live needs to eat. So that covers Republicans and Democrats and unenrolled voters. It covers libertarians and democratic socialists and any other political identification people have, green independent we have in Maine, it goes on. If you want to live, you need to eat. Politics is strange. Representative, Billy Bob Faulkingham is a Republican who put this bill in because I wasn't in the legislature when it was introduced this time. Because I had termed out of the house and was not running for the Senate, I actually came into the Senate in a special election. And so once I arrived in the Senate, this bill had received more votes in the House of Representatives that it had ever had before. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that a Republican this time sponsored it. And so he brought more members of his party to the table. They wouldn't vote for it when I introduced it, but they voted for it when he introduced it. So you can interview those folks to figure out what changed their minds, because the language of the resolution remains exactly the same. But again, that's politics. The policy is good, this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's a basic human right. Protecting my right to choose my body's food. I can't imagine why anyone would deny that. The more food choices we have, the more food producers we have, the more community embedded food options, increased food production, the availability and accessibility of food, food price competition. And that will benefit everyone, including the hungry. Thirty years ago, maybe more, the people of this state through their representatives put into law that it is the policy of the state to be food self-sufficient, and that means all things. It means we're supposed to buy most of our food for our institutions, the Maine farmers and food producers. And it means that individuals should be able, to the extent possible, to provide for themselves the food they wish to eat. If they can't grow it, and if they can't produce it, then they clearly want to be able to find it around them. We have food deserts in Maine. Washington County in particular like none you've ever seen. And while that is the policy of the state, we still import 90% of the food we consume. And as Heather said, that it has a lot to do with food policy that has been directed by government agencies that have been co-opted regulatory capture by corporations. It's sorry to say, but having served on the committee that oversees our food supplies for six years and having chaired the committee on the house side for two terms, I can tell you unequivocally, the Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry exists to protect corporate interests. It says that it cares about the people, but I passed the law four years ago that required the department to do a public relations campaign, to promote food self-sufficiency for the people. And it was framed around the idea of Victory Gardens and all of that after World War II, where the USDA ran a public campaign, to make sure that people were growing their backyard gardens and raising their backyard pigs and chickens. I wanted the State of Maine to run a similar program for the time to allow for folks to understand that, to combat hunger and to decrease our reliance on food from away that people really did need to get involved in community gardens and to the extent that they could, wherever they lived, if their zoning allowed for it to grow their own food. We funded it in the legislature, but the department never implemented that program. And so it tells me that it wasn't interested in doing what the people asked it to do to its representatives. And so we find ourselves having to take back all of our own power. Fannie Lou Hamer said it, if you can grow your own food and feed yourself, nobody can push you around and tell you what to do. Mainers are by nature a libertarian people. We don't want anyone to tell us what to do. We believe in live and let live, so long as I'm not hurting anybody else, I should be able to do whatever I want. Food is life, and if you have a right to life, we have a right to food. And that means we have a right to the food and we wish to eat for our own bodily health and wellbeing. And I can't imagine a more non-partisan issue than that. Alison - There's so much about this effort that is about restoring democracy in many, many ways. It's really about looking at where the power sits, and if it's not with the people, it's not ultimately democracy. So, many, many different tributaries I think we could go down here, but our time is short. And so I do have another question, Heather, what message do you want to convey to voters in Maine on the ballot question they'll be considering in November? Why should they vote "Yes" for the right to food constitutional amendment? Heather - There are so many good reasons to do this that it sometimes can be hard to distill them. And I am notorious for speaking in paragraphs and not short sentences. I'm going to try. I've heard that said, I think maybe by you before, Alison, but that this really is a watershed moment in our nation's history. And certainly Maine has this opportunity to lead the way in securing the right to food in our constitution. We know from prohibition times as Maine goes, so goes the nation. The other bullet points, if I may, are just that this absolutely shifts the concentration of power from the corporations that control our food supply to us as individuals. And it really secures our agency, our liberty, and it gives us as individual citizens, a greater voice in the decision making. Not just about our food, but about the relationships that we have with each other in our communities. It's important to know that a right enumerated is to protect individuals, not a provision from the government. If you look at the other rights, there are 24 right now in our Bill of Rights in Maine, it's about the government securing and protecting legal space. But it doesn't provide guns, for example, though we have the right to keep and bear arms. It doesn't tell people what they should say, though we have the freedom of speech. It doesn't dictate what type of religion, though we have the freedom of religion. So the same is true for food. And then it becomes a metric to inform and guide lawmaking and policy priorities, but it doesn't make law and policy. And that I think is really important when we think about a future vision that is about a much more food-resilient Maine and thinking about what that might look like with town planning, edible landscapes, and compost, and collecting rainwater and all those things. So just people know, it exists to secure our individual rights. It's not a provision from the government and I am going let Craig share the slogan that I think it's important for people to hear as right to that. Sen. Craig - You mean the one that goes something like, "The right to food is right for me, vote yes on question three?" Heather - Yes. Alison - Can you say that again, Craig? Can you just say that again, loud and proud? Sen. Craig - The right to food is right for me, vote yes on question three. Alison - That's awesome, thank you both so much. I wanted to just end on this reflective note. Heather, I've been reading your Quills End Farm newsletters over the last year or so, as I've gotten to know you better. And you included a quote in your most recent newsletter that I'd love to hear your thoughts on. The quote was from Nelson Mandela, and it came at the tail end of your announcement to the readers of your newsletter, that this amendment passed both legislative bodies would be on the ballot box in November. And the quote reads, "It always feels impossible until it's done." How was this reflective of your experience to date in your advocacy work in particular? And how might it inspire the folks who are listening, who are also advocating for a rights not charity approach to ending hunger and protecting community food systems in their own states? Heather - A dear friend of mine and fellow advocate, Bonnie Preston, especially after losses would say that to me. She said, "Remember, Heather, it always feels impossible until it's done." It could be one of our downfalls, but I tend to approach this work with great humility. And sometimes that can lead to a feeling of it'll never happen. The forces against us are too great. There's the department, there's the all the food lobbies, there's the industrial farm organizations. But really, I think what comes to light when I think about that is this moment when, back in the beginning in 2011 or 2012, my colleague, Bonnie, invited then Congressman Mike Michaud to come to our area. And we invited him to grange in North Blue Hill. And somebody asked the question, just point blank, "When do you think the Congress is gonna recognize food sovereignty?" And Mike Michaud looked at me and it was clear that food sovereignty was a foreign language, he didn't know the words or what they meant. And when I gave him a nutshell definition on the side there that it was about self-determination of food supply. He looked back at the questioner and he just kind of laughed because it was so impossible, there's no way that would happen. So those were kind of the moments when the mountain appeared most of the time, we just kept stepping one step at a time and stayed on the path. But there were definitely times when those mountains became visible and each time we tried, more people joined and still, and yet we would lose. And each time we won, it felt like could have lost, it could have gone a different way if it hadn't been for this one person who really believed in having that one more conversation with their representative or their Senator. And then those legislators, it always took people who are willing to stand up to their party and work against the party for the constituents or for the principles of the thing. It was impossible until it happened. Alison - Let's get it done, right? Sen. Craig - Let's do it. Alison - Craig, do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up? Sen. Craig – Just to sort of extend that, you have to fight misinformation all the time. Throughout this process, we've heard everything from this right, if it is declared in our constitution, we'll preempt and, or overturn every single law, rule, regulation, municipal ordinance, zoning requirement out there, all of that is false. The declaration of a right does not touch statute or ordinance. Those are also legal instruments. Everything will remain the same unless, or until someone challenges something and maybe a court will say, "Yeah, maybe you did go a little too far with that regulation or that rule." But unless or until that happens, nothing changes. We are putting solid ground into our constitution. Quite frankly, it should be article 2A of our Declaration of Rights. It should come directly after all power is inherent in the people. As farmers, everything happens from the ground up except for rain, and this is where we put our feet in solid ground. And we put that into a constitution that would have never imagined needing it. When the founders drafted the words of our constitution, they all fed themselves. And so nobody ever thought we would have to defend this right until we now realize we do. And Maine is at the end of the line, and we always have to remember that we cannot take our food supply for granted. When the trucks stop coming, we starve. Grocery store shelves are still not refilled from this ongoing pandemic that we find ourselves in. And so we don't need to wait for say another part of an industry, which is going on right now in Maine where organic dairy farms have lost their holler and will no longer have a market for their milk in 2022. We need to stop waiting for that to happen. We need to take care of ourselves as my mother, wise as she was, always used to say, "Every tub stands on its own bottom." That is what "Yes" means. Alison - That's fantastic. I really appreciate how this conversation for me has illuminated constitutional amendment around the right to food, to ultimately be about the scaffolding, putting the scaffolding in place so that we can continue to find our way forward in erecting policies and other pathways to really support the freedom of food choice. Thank you both so, so very much for being with us today, and I hope you know that you have many observers and supporters around the country that are behind you and really looking forward to a successful outcome on November 2nd. So if you're inspired by what you've heard today, please check out our other podcasts and keep up to date with the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health, and Social Justice by visiting www.rightsnotcharity.org. The Alliance is an international research, education and advocacy effort. You can find a transcript of today's discussion at http://rightsnotcharity.org/podcasts. This is Alison Cohen with WhyHunger.
Aug 31 2021
25 mins
Rights not Charity
Welcome to Rights Not Charity. This podcast series is about a big idea—ensuring everyone has enough food; not as a charitable gift, but as a fundamental human right. We are the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health, and Social Justice. We’re a growing collective of foodbank workers, researchers and public policy advocates, and this podcast represents our voices. Have you ever wondered why there are so many food banks in rich countries? How did nations come to see food charity as a normal and  necessary response to poverty and food insecurity? Food insecurity is a much bigger problem than food banks could ever solve. We need a transformative solution to food insecurity that’s rooted in more than charity - but let’s understand how we got here. Forty years ago, food banks exploded across the United States. They quickly spread to Canada and more recently to the UK. The food bank model is promoted as a ‘win-win’ solution to both hunger and food waste in over 100 countries now. But we disagree, and here’s why. The causes of hunger are complex and can’t be solved simply by redirecting excess food.  Our food system is rooted in ongoing legacies of white supremacy, power and domination - from settler colonialism and land dispossession to plantation slavery and industrial agriculture. The food system doesn’t serve everyone equally. It makes our bodies sick, and damages our soil and water. Hunger is rooted in much larger systems of inequity, including structural poverty and systemic racism. Hunger is an equity problem, not a problem of food supply.  Access to good food is a human right and public policies should protect this basic right. But the food system is controlled by corporations motivated by profit, not rights. Corporations have  become a powerful driver and beneficiary of the food charity system. We’ll shine a light on the impact of corporate control of our food system. Our Alliance is advocating for transformative solutions to the unjust conditions that cause hunger, food insecurity and ill-health. Tune in as we share those ideas. In the Rights Not Charity podcast series, we’ll hear from a range of diverse voices. We’ll learn about grassroots action and social movements, as well as policy interventions, legal mechanisms, and more. We want to shift the conversation from food charity to food justice to end bread lines for good. Follow our work--and join our movement--at rightsnotcharity.org. Let’s recognize food as a pathway to health, justice, and healing. Solidarity, not charity; human rights, not bragging rights; political will, not goodwill.
May 10 2021
3 mins

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