By Sage Wylie ’19, Food Institute Student Fellow
November 11th to 19th is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Here at the Food Institute, we think about the prevailing issues surrounding food and hunger every day. These issues have endured throughout most, if not all of human history, and yet we are nowhere near solving them. As we take a step back to examine the system surrounding hunger, we are able to see the some of the obstacles we currently face – and will face – as we continue to attempt to eradicate this abiding issue.
Why do we talk about increasing food production to eliminate hunger and food security instead of efficiently distributing the food we already have?
There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone on this planet, so why is it that 815 million people, more than twice the population of the entire United States, are going hungry every day? Hunger and malnutrition are extremely difficult issues to combat because they are so multifaceted. Wasted food throughout the supply chain, produce and crop transportation challenges, and civil unrest are all just some of the reasons why food that is already produced might not make it to a hungry mouth. These are all underlying issues that increase the prevalence of food insecurity and malnutrition and must be dealt with in conjunction with solving hunger. Raising awareness about the relationship of poverty and hunger is extremely important when working to solve this issue.
Here in the US, 43.1 million people live below the federal poverty level and 42 million Americans are at risk of hunger. On any given night, 549,000 people in the U.S. are without a home. Efforts that work to alleviate these problems by giving food to homeless people provide temporary relief, but how do we ensure the food is distributed equitably in the first place? Though we may never reach 100% efficiency in making sure that every crop or animal is used in some way, increasing distribution of already produced food should be a larger part of the conversation. In fact, on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO)’s 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, distribution problems leading to hunger is barely mentioned at all. There seems to be a gap in the way we approach hunger. In public health issues like this which depend on behavioral change, it is crucial we frame the issue correctly, with all the necessary components.
What are solutions to solving hunger that are more than just a band-aid?
There are plenty of opportunities to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness rather than just participating in a canned food drive or volunteering at a food pantry. Though these efforts are imperative to making sure that people do not go hungry in the immediate future, they do not address the underlying factors that are perpetuating the problem. As Andy Fisher discusses in his book Big Hunger, the most important change will come from raising awareness about structural poverty and the best way to address it, such as establishing a livable minimum wage, increasing SNAP benefits, and reforming the prison system, just to name a few. Instead of channeling all our efforts into programs that only put a band-aid on the issue, we should aim to work with organizations and increase awareness of programs that attack hunger and homelessness at the root.
How can you get involved?
In the D.C. area, there are events happening throughout the week to raise awareness for hunger and homelessness. Be mindful of the events that you participate in; we are lucky in D.C. to have so many organizations that offer more than just temporary solutions to hunger and homelessness. A great opportunity for GW students is Miriam’s Kitchen; right next to campus, this organization helps those experiencing chronic homelessness by providing daily breakfast and dinner, and working with individuals to find permanent housing. Did you know that the GroW Garden on campus donates all their produce to Miriam’s Kitchen? During October they donated an average of 28 pounds of produce per week! More events specifically tied with Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week can be found here.