“Hunger” Is Big Business

First, let me draw your attention to this slick and expensive website: Feeding America

It has a ton of sponsors. Here are just a few: Monsanto, PepsiCo, Nestle, Walmart, Morgan Stanley, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Del Monte, Dean Foods, Cargill, Tyson, Unilever, Smithfield, Proctor & Gamble, Dannon … and on and on.

These companies are not involved in “feeding America” out of altruism. They get something back, something that feeds their bottom line. It is in their financial interest to maintain a hunger market in this country. I’m not kidding.

Here’s a screen shot from Feeding America:

You know why “hunger” touches every community in the US? Because big corporations have a stake in making it so. And they use photographs like these to keep the argument emotional. It’s despicable.

Also … People who are truly involved in feeding the hungry have grown dependent on these corporations. In a way, they’re dependent upon each other:

Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America And Anti-Hunger Groups, Andrew Fisher

Reliant on corporate donations of food and money, anti-hunger organizations have failed to hold business accountable for offshoring jobs, cutting benefits, exploiting workers and rural communities, and resisting wage increases. They have become part of a “hunger industrial complex” that seems as self-perpetuating as the more famous military-industrial complex.

Civil Eats interviewed the book’s author, Andrew Fisher:

To Solve Hunger, First Solve Poverty A new book about the business of hunger argues that food charities’ reliance on corporate donations makes solving hunger impossible.

And Fisher said this, which blew me away:

Steve Holt wrote a two-part series criticizing food banks for being in bed with corporations for Takepart.com extensively quoting me. [Here that is: Are Food Banks Selling Out to Corporate America?]. When the second part of the series didn’t run, I discovered that Feeding America went “ballistic” after reading the first article. They admitted that the critiques were true, but convinced the website to censor the second article.

So, that slick corporate-run website at the top of my post, “Feeding America” censored Holt’s and Fisher’s claims that corporations – like Walmart and Monsanto and Pepsi – are in bed with food pantries.

This next part gets me angry, because almost every time I go to the grocery store anymore, the check-out person asks me if I want to donate to some food bank or other anti-hunger charity. (This has become a thing!) Now, if I do, I’ll be thinking I’m contributing to low wages and worker exploitation:

By failing to organize around wages and jobs, and perpetuating dependency on free food and food stamps, the anti-hunger community contributes to economic insecurity.

Finally, I have to repost this comment that was under the Civil Eats article. It’s by a man, Alan Jennings, who has spent his life tackling inequality:

It is great to see someone shake up the charitable approach to fighting hunger in this wealthy nation of ours. It would be a lengthy piece for me to write a comprehensive response to the points made here in. But I am up to my eyeballs in fighting the battles that need to be fought to effectively address poverty in our midst and can’t spare as much time as would be needed. Unfortunately, when we have limited time we tend to be more strident. So, I’ve run the risk of offending some people and, while some need to be offended, the risk is to lose support for what we do. So, I will apologize up front for any hard feelings I might cause. Here goes.

First, the word “hunger” is an inappropriate term. The reality is that, while far too many people struggle to pay their bills, the incidence of “hunger” is pretty limited in America. By “hunger” I mean the pangs and the bloated belly that come with them.

What we do have is millions of people who, even when they work, simply cannot possibly pay the bills. What those of us who run food banks do is enable people to save money on food, thereby freeing up very limited dollars to pay their rent and other unavoidable expenses.

Hunger is a very charged word, and we need to be more careful with its use.

Second, emergency food assistance is charity. Charity is what society does when there is no justice. Charity is food assistance. Justice is a job that pays the bills. Charity is a homeless shelter. Justice is an affordable apartment that is safe.

Third, many well-meaning people support food pantries and food banks because those programs reinforce the notion that the failure of our marketplace is episodic, temporary and, all too often, the fault of the individual for not keeping their nose to the grindstone. They don’t want to believe that the marketplace doesn’t work as most of us would surmise by the fact that tens of millions of people can’t find shelter from the storm of a marketplace that seems to be getting meaner by the day.

I am grateful to each and every person who reaches out to serve others, regardless of their political views or situation in life. My preference would be helping each and every one of our donors to understand the deeper challenges of our society, its marketplace and the political environment that would have even a single American turning his or her back on their neighbors in need.

We should be working on raising the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour. We should be reducing the only housing subsidy entitlement in America (the mortgage interest deduction) and shift that lost revenue to real housing subsidies for those unable to work and those whose skills have so little value in our marketplace. We should join the rest of the civilized world by establishing a single-payer, universal health insurance entitlement. We should stop educational apartied that locks inequity into our system in favor of ensuring that every kid in America gets access to quality early childhood education and decent K-12 public education.

That, my friends, would enable us to shut down much of the anti-poverty and anti-hunger “industry.” That would be real success.

The organization I run, called the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania, could redirect the funding we use to sustain our Second Harvest Food Bank and our homeless shelter in favor of other programs we operate like those that help people start their own business, buy their own home or accumulate other kinds of critical household resources.

I have tried my best to avoid being publicly critical of some key organizations that do anti-hunger work, including one with which we are closely affiliated. I’m not dumb enough to offend the – pun intended – hand that feeds us. Too many people get paid to keep the system and its inequity in place. That aspect of the status quo should be upended.

Alan L. Jennings, Executive Director
Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley
Bethlehem PA

Here’s some background on Alan Jennings: After Decades Of Fighting For The Poor, Alan Jennings Now In A Fight For Himself. That article was written around June 2015. It included a short video which I’m having trouble embedding, but you can click his photo here and it will take you to it. It’s people like Alan Jennings that restores my faith in humanity.

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