A Thanksgiving Tale: The Hunger Cloth
By Roger Thurow
* This article may be reprinted with permission and providing credit to Roger Thurow,
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs 2012
Now, in the U.S., I’m reminded of the many food pantries preparing to distribute turkeys and all the fixings to families who otherwise wouldn’t share in our great Thanksgiving tradition, and I think of the many soup kitchens readying meals for those who have no place to eat such a feast. In both Africa and America, I have seen hunger narrow the choices of daily living.
For the smallholder farmers with their meager crop yields: feed my family or sell some of my harvest to pay school fees for my children; feed my family or buy malaria medication; feed my family or repair the hole in my thatched roof.
For those who rely on American food banks and soup kitchens: buy food or pay the rent; buy food or keep my health insurance; buy food or pay the electricity and gas bills.
Hunger, no matter where it is, is an abomination. It tears at families, communities, societies. It cheats economic development. It haunts the conscience. Or at least it should.
Scenes from my reporting on hunger, be it at home or abroad, are seared in my mind:
In Africa, severely malnourished children clinging to life in emergency feeding tents. Families struggling to make it through the day on a mere cup of tea.
In America, astonished teachers watching students stuffing their pockets with food at Friday lunch, even when that food was spaghetti, because they didn’t know if there would be much to eat at home over the weekend. Children so eager to get to school they hopped off the buses on Monday morning and raced through the hallways; they were heading to the cafeteria, for school breakfast, because they hadn’t eaten much since school lunch on Friday.
A common source of hunger, of course, is poverty. For Africa’s smallholder farmers, it is an absence of essential resources: better quality seeds, micro-doses of fertilizer, financing and agriculture extension advice – the vital ingredients to grow enough food to feed a family for a year. For families in America, it is an absence of a living wage, a lack of decent paying jobs to afford food security throughout the year.
The solutions are also similar. They must be long-term, beyond the immediate aid, and include more community input, individual empowerment and innovative education. The goal is for the farmers of Africa to grow as much nutritionally rich food as they possibly can and for the food insecure in America to be as productive as possible and earn enough to buy their own food.
One more common thread: Efforts to end hunger are under siege by the global financial mess. In the U.S., both short-term safety nets and long-term solutions are threatened by budget cuts, be they food stamps or women and infant care programs or the White House’s Feed the Future initiative which focuses on improving harvests of smallholder farmers in the developing world. The mandatory spending cuts that loom at the fiscal cliff will have a disproportionate heavy impact on poverty and hunger programs, which have already been hit in previous budget slashing moves. Hungry farmers? Hungry Americans? The awful oxymoron would be extended, not ended, by such cuts.
At Thanksgiving, we know we can do better. It is the time to commit to the last hunger season.