It occurred to me the other day that in no city I’ve ever lived in has been free of obviously, openly, hungry people.
No matter how wealthy the city – Toronto, Boston, New York, São Paulo; we are confronted every day with the reality of the desperate. Miserable people, begging for coins that most of us are only ever going to toss in jars, sleeping in disgusting accommodation, unable to provide for their basic needs. When such a person asks for money and justifies their request with an appeal to their own hunger, we the fortunate do not in general reject the possibility that this person may in fact be semi-starving. We either give or don’t give, but we don’t necessarily assume that we are dealing with liars.
People who live on the street are just a small fraction of our hungry. How many other people do we pass on a daily basis that are used to facing the risk of not having enough to eat? We don’t see them, but it’s not because they don’t exist.
In Toronto, the Daily Bread Food Bank reported 1.1 million client visits in 2012-13. Can it be true that every day 3000 Torontonians would fail to eat if not for this charity? How many others are one bad spin of the wheel away from this ultimate human disaster? Is there another social problem that drags more people to the brink?
From an economic, rationalist perspective, this is a particularly troubling problem. Our capitalist society, the most efficient industrial arrangement that the world has ever seen, is clearly failing to eradicate hunger. If São Paulo were five times richer, would the hungry be fed? The reality of life in New York and Toronto makes the answer clear. Neither our business leaders, geniuses of delivering 7% return on capital, or our politicians, artists of 2% economic growth, are willing or able to articulate a plan to do away with hunger in our cities.
From a personal perspective, we all know how the feeling of being hungry makes us worse people, both morally and physically.
From a historical perspective, we know that the last hundred years were one long nightmare of the lack of food very quickly turning homo sapiens into just another group of screeching primates.
From an ethical perspective, it seems strange that some should starve in societies of ever increasing material abundance.
And even from the perspective of a greedy rich man, it would seem that if hungry people are more likely to be criminal, and hungry people are more likely to be bearers of disease, then solving this problem may even put more money in the gentleman’s pocket, or at the very least improve his quality of life at very little expense.
In the rich countries, our national constitutions tend to guarantee us fantastic and wonderful rights. Freedom of expression. Marvelous! The right to a speedy trial. Splendid! The ability to from time to time replace the executive power. Remarkable! We as citizens have decided that we want these liberties and have caused them to be exist.
In the 21st century, in an age of space travel, instantaneous global communication, and nanotechnology, perhaps we must recognize that the problem of hunger is not about to solve itself.
Everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, deserves the right to a square meal when they are hungry. There is no moral argument against it, and no practical reason that makes it impossible. What is required is for citizens to hold their elected and unelected leaders accountable. How can any politician sleep at night knowing there is hunger within their territory?
We ordinary citizens can only wonder. Is it malice that guides our elite? Incompetence? Or indifference?
One thing is for certain. I know that I will not be voting for any candidate, in any election, who does not have a plan to eliminate food insecurity from my world. The right to a square meal. Who is for it?Read More