When I started at Hunger Free Heartland eight months ago, I was shocked to discover that researchers had identified solutions to end hunger in the United States. In all of my prior volunteer work around food security in Nebraska, the idea of actually eradicating hunger was never discussed. After all, most of this anti-hunger work had been through my local United Methodist church, and Jesus was the one who said, “For you will always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11).
I had come to accept that there was no way to end poverty. I thought the best we could hope to do was treat the symptoms of hunger.
Craig Gundersen, Ph.D., professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, completed research in 2012 that identified five strategies for ending hunger by addressing the root causes. When communities intentionally implement all five solutions, food security increases:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows families to have additional monthly income to spend specifically on food.
- School breakfast and lunch helps ensure children are fed while at school. Summer Meal programs help bridge the gap for families when school is out of session.
- Food pantries and access to other emergency food assistance addresses the immediate need by assisting any family regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic or immigrant status, and physical ability.
- Low food prices means being able to buy affordable nutritious food within a reasonable distance from where you live.
- Improved financial management skills help people better understand how to budget – to avoid debt and keep families in safe housing with enough food.
I can’t help but think of the scene in the 1994 movie “Dumb & Dumber” where Jeff Daniels’ character exasperatedly questions Jim Carrey’s character–“You mean to tell me you’ve known how to eradicate hunger this whole time?!”
“Well, yeah, Dr. Gundersen’s decades-long research has primarily focused on the causes and consequences of food insecurity and on evaluations of food assistance programs.”
OKAY. So, why do one in five children living in Nebraska still not have enough food to eat?
I believe the reason we haven’t made the systemic changes needed to eradicate hunger in our state (and country) is because we haven’t collectively taken a step back to see the big picture. Capitalism values production, so it can seem counter-intuitive to spend precious resources on preventative measures because it “takes away” from how many people we can feed (or clothe, or house). But, if we ever want to see the numbers of people in need decline, we need to understand how the different strategies work together to address the root causes of hunger and poverty. We must invest in preventative, root-cause work. This includes making a better effort to support bipartisan anti-hunger policy at both the federal and state level.
The United States has more than enough food to provide adequate nutrition for all people. We have identified interventions that will allow every child to have their basic needs met and grow to their fullest potential. We don’t have to accept that there will always be hungry people–Jesus was unfaltering about mercy and justice work, but we certainly can’t fault him for the lack of influence macro-level social work had in First Century Palestine…
I’m sad to be leaving Omaha, a city I’ve called home the last 25 years. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the Hunger Free Heartland team and to learn alongside wonderful anti-hunger advocates. My future philanthropic endeavors will reflect my new understanding of “root cause” work, and I look forward to making an impact in the St. Louis community.
Shalom, Jess Thacker