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Help. It's necessary

It can't just be food for thought
    What do we need to live?
    Air, to breathe. Water, to drink. Food, to eat. Shelter from heat and cold, wet and drought. Friends and family, to love and be loved by. The intangibles - literature, the arts, perhaps faith in something - to keep us human and make us more.
    There. In those three typewritten lines, you have, arguably, all that's needed to optimize our human race. You have, arguably, the recipe for making the life of every man, woman and child on Earth that much closer to good.
     Of the six "needed-to-live" items I mentioned, the first three - air, water and food - are utterly indispensable.
    Air is, by and large, available freely, although not necessarily in pristine condition.
    Water is more problematic. In many areas of the world, its lack is the source of more than enough human woe to break your heart. In the First World, however, it is generally available. In the First World, we're usually successful in ensuring that humans don't systemically die from lack of water.
    Hunger, however, is another thing.
    Lack of food. Hunger
    Hunger is a monster. It kills people. It stunts their lives, their stature, their minds, their spirits. It kills quickly and slowly.
    It lives everywhere. Spin a globe and point at some random place; chances are that people are dying because of hunger wherever your finger lands. Hunger's causes are myriad. War, economic mismanagement, greed, short-sightedness, willful ignorance, and, occasionally, inescapable fate; take your pick.
    If you're reading this, you're most likely members of the First World. I hope that means you've never experienced hunger. I hope it's an abstraction to you. I know it is to me. Hunger's never squatted in my home, attacked my baby, ruined my concentration. It's never wearied me, or made every thought and action painful and slow, made sleep impossible, and waking life un-doable. It's not my nightmare.
    But somewhere on my First World street, somewhere in my First World neighborhood, and in my First World city, there are people who are hungry. There's no room for argument, for denial; there are studies, and demographic analyses and news stories and there's an end to any argument about whether it exists here. It does.
    And it affects me, in numerous ways.
    Start with the practical. Every child whose physical and mental development is altered by constant low-level hunger is a child who can't concentrate in school, who fails in school, who becomes unemployable, who erodes my society in that fashion.
    End with my heart. Every man, woman or child is connected to me, by virtue of species of nothing else. I can't wave a wand and make their lives better, but I have a responsibility to do what I can to give them the chance to make their own lives better. If that means providing at least enough food that they can have a restful sleep, and maybe do a little better in the classroom or on the job, and get strong enough to stand on their own two feet, then I have that responsibility.
    And there are outlets that allow me to do so. There are soup kitchens, food pantries, food depositories and distribution centers. In America, a nationwide system of national, regional and local food distribution outlets exists to help fight hunger.
    That system - in large part represented by an entity called America's Second Harvest - depends on an established balance of federally supplied or subsidized excess farm commodities (think dairy goods and other basic foodstuffs) and private donations (both individual and corporate) which allow the system to buy more food for distribution to the hungry. It's not a perfect system, but it's amazingly successful.
    In my neck of the woods, the system's highest-profile representative is The Greater Chicago Food Depository. In your neck of the woods it may be called something else.
    And right now, America's anti-hunger food distribution system is staggering. The balance has been disrupted.   
    1) The amount of available excess commodities has dropped as the farming industry has become more successful at selling its goods on the commercial market.
    2) The amount of money supplied by the federal government to buy those excess goods has not grown to beat inflation or increased food costs for the past several years.
    Some, if not all, of the imbalance could be rectified: simply pass a new USDA Farm Bill with a reasonable increase in the amount of money earmarked for the national food distribution system.
    That hasn't happened yet, and food distribution centers across the country are reeling. They need your help, and you can help them in a couple of ways.
    One way's pretty self-evident. Donate food and money to the distribution centers in your area. Do it for the first time, or increase what you normally give. Donate your time. Contact these groups and ask what you can do.
    Another way is to exercise your democratic right to influence your government. You can, if you choose, tell your federal representatives that you want them to pass a farm bill that helps the food distribution system.
    You can learn a lot more about the current situation by accessing information at America's Second Harvest, or, here in the Chicago area, the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
    I may have come across as a self-important  termagant with this. I hope not.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
Hmmm this gets problematic, not for the humanitarian aspects but for the side effects. American farm policies in the past have encouraged the production of low quality high yield crops (and short term cultivation practices which impact long term soil quality effectively making farming a form of mining). Things may have changed but I doubt it.

Large quantities of low value grain were, for a very long time, a glut on the world markets. This glut was essentially given away under PL 480 for reasons domestic and foreign policies that had nothing to do with good agri-business or good agri-management. This grain was pretty much free to the receivers, who paid in worthless local currency which was either banked or distroyed. This also destroyed local production making these nations even more dependent on food aid.

Meanwhile nations who could not subsidize food production found they could not compete (read everyone except Japan, EU and America). Canada has been very badly hurt by these policies in the past.

I think a better solution than cheap food is to get money into the hands of the poor, preferably by giving them jobs rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of your cities (our infrastructure is certainly falling apart). Real jobs with real worth so they can afford to purchase food at a fair price. Those who cannot work should of course have food provided via a meaningful program.

I am not really right wing, it is just I hate to see America pour huge subsidies into the pockets of agribusiness corporatos while doing nothing for the real longterm needs of the poor and hungry, nor for the family farms which are becoming extinct, nor for the environment, nor for the needy of other nations.

I will not be surprised if many of the current food shortage issues are related to vast amounts of corn being diverted to the production of biofuels.

...... Don steps off his soapbox....there is so much that could be said... agriculture and agricultural policies are huge, poorly understood and very complex issues and I really am not even close to being an expert.

sorry for getting carried away (I don't know the smiley face for sheepish but assume it is here).

Dec. 6th, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC)
too bad I cannot edit out all the grammer problems... but I think people can catch the drift.
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Dec. 6th, 2007 07:25 pm (UTC)
I don't think grain reserves are a bad idea. We have used them here on occaision as well, though more for economic reasons. The possibility for a failure certainly seems to be there. I could not tell you how much is required for US domestic consumption.

Consumption levels vary as well depending on how you are using your grains. The volume for making bread and pastas is only a fraction of what is or can be used. How much reserve is needed for livestock, alcohol (seriously), industrial and other consumption?

Dec. 8th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
That? Is seriously scary. Particularly when you consider that it's all in a (geological) day's work when for our globe.
Dec. 6th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
Our farm subsidies policies are disastrous for everyone except agri-business and people like Collin Peterson, Minnesota's 7th congressional district representative (you know, the Red River valley area), who brought home over 800 million dollars for agri-business in his district between 2003 and 2005 and is not surprisingly a wholly owned subsidiary of agri-business.


kaffyr does have a solid point about supporting food distribution networks though. While everyone should have access to good jobs, giving them food is a different problem and frankly one that is easier to solve.

Dec. 6th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)
I agree. There should be some method of distributing food to the poor (and the sometimes just broke). Winnipeg Harvest does a lot towards providing food for people who are poor or due unforseen circumstances due not have the means to purchase food at the immediate time (more than one struggling student subsidied themselves at the food bank after unexpected bus fare increases or inflation caused them to come up short).

It is the danger of using agricultural policies to do these things that I worry about. Ag policy tends toward putting money into the pockets of people who already have a lot.
Dec. 8th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
So sorry I took this long to respond: somewhere after your thoughtful post, life exploded into a huge, dripping ball of can't-play-on-the-computer. Sigh. I wanted to tell you that I think you're generally spot-on when it comes to the economic stupidity that underlies the First World's agri-policies. Which doesn't surprise me; am I wrong in remembering that you spent some time working for a wheat board, or similar entity?

Here's the thing, though (oir a couple of things): First hunger is an immediate thing. And, unfortunately (I mean really unfortunately) it, most often, isn't solely a matter of giving people who are affected the most money and letting them buy their own food on the public market. Not immediately, anyway. So many of the hungry who are being fed by the food depository networks here are a) children; b) seniors; and c) folks with mental disabilities that either temporarily or permanently have rendered them incapable of holding down jobs. Let's make sure there's a base level of nutrition working; we stand a better chance that the people we hope will enter, or re-enter, the working world can actually hack it there and make a go of it.

Second, we have to remember that the problem of hunger and the problem of an economically mismanaged agricultural system are only tangentially related. They are not the same thing. The danger in conflating them - on the part of our politicians, our policy makers, and our hunger/farm/younamethem lobbyists - is that all of them see it as an either-or problem. Either we continue to help hungry people with a broken agri-economic model or we fix the model, and tell the hungry to fend for themselves, or at the very least offer them fewer options.

It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way.

When we get caught up in the either-or fallacy _"Hey, we can't do this because it means we have to do that!" we immediately slog to a stop in solving problems. We have to take the 'and' attitude. We can fix *this* problem and *that* problem. It will be difficult. Probably more difficult than we expect. But it is, most often, doable. We just have to work harder.
Dec. 8th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
I agree short term and long term solutions are needed for the problems of hunger and economic disparity. Our kids are putting together Christmas hampers at school which is rewarding on several levels. They learn about the issues of poverty and hunger, and they contribute to short term solutions. Hopefully they will come to understand the need for long term solutions.


I worked for the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) for 30 years. Nine in Information Technology and the remaining 21 in Grain Transportation.

While I was there the CWB library (full fledged library with a real librarian with two or more assistants) who would circulate, on a daily basis, photocopies of English language newspapers from around the world. Originally meant for higher level employees, demand from mid and even lower staff soon meant any employee had the opportunity to become well read on all sorts of grain, grain industry, weather and climate news. Essentially if it could have anything at all to do with us we wanted to read it. Some staff, myself included, would provide the library with other materials we came across if we felt it would be of interest.

I do not know how much things have changed in the last two years.

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Dec. 8th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
I'm such an lj egg that I simply go to rich text format when I post. That allows me to change the size and color. When I'm replying to someone's post, rich text seems to be unavailable to me and I'm able only to use html coding. Since I suck at that (I can bold, and I can italicize, and that's that, no sizing, no font-changing, yada-yada) everything gets pretty basic in replies. I don't know how html coding might change the way your text looks on other pages.
Dec. 6th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
"To keep us human and make us more" is a wonderfully evocative turn of phrase. Thank you for it.

Dec. 8th, 2007 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Being human and being more is what all the cool kids are doing.
Dec. 9th, 2007 06:07 am (UTC)
Wish I saw more of it in politics.

Dec. 6th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
Have you seen this?

Dec. 6th, 2007 10:31 pm (UTC)
Transportation subsidies are not new. The Crowsnest Agreement was set up in 1897. In return for monies and land a transportation subsidy on grain and other items was set that was supposed to be in place for perpetuity It lasted 97 yrs leading wags in the early 1990s to proclaim that they now knew how long perpetuity lasted.
Dec. 8th, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
Food for thought.

Wait. Did I really say that?
Dec. 9th, 2007 06:08 am (UTC)
I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma right now. Very, very worth reading.

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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