By Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld and Dr. Reba Goodman
We live in a world of plenty, yet nearly 1 billion people are chronically hungry. There is more food available than ever before. Global agriculture produces almost 20 percent more calories per person today than 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent increase of population.
People are chronically hungry because they are too poor to purchase sufficient food and, increasingly, they are losing the land on which they used to grow their food to big agriculture companies.
The effect of hunger is particularly devastating for children. Access to adequate food during the first 1,000 days of life is vitally important to their healthy future.
49 million food-insecure in US
Hunger can also exist in rich countries. In the US, 49 million Americans live in food-insecure homes. Surely this is not because there is not enough food around. Basically, the problem is poverty. Recently, the US government changed the rules to end the food stamp program for 700,000 poor people.
The persistence of hunger is a moral challenge. We believe that something as basic as food should not be totally governed by the marketplace. Food is like any other product in a market economy, a commodity. Farming is a business.
Large tracts of land are often devoted to the cultivation of coffee, tobacco, cotton, and so forth, responding to market demand, rather than feeding poor people. Let’s look at some examples:
Nations export while citizens go hungry
A few years ago, India exported 30 million metric tons of food worth $23 billion in US dollars. That included 11 million tons of rice, 6 million tons of wheat, and 2 million tons of vegetables. Meanwhile, India’s food-insecure population is 255 million people. This was allowed because the government of India placed a higher priority on earning large sums of money for agribusinesses and exporters than feeding the nation’s own hungry population.
In the 19th century in Ireland, during the potato famine, we had a similar situation. The traditional diet in Ireland at that time included a lot of potatoes, and they had caught a disease making them inedible. During this period, Ireland continued to export large quantities of food, primarily to Great Britain. This continued even as great hunger ravaged the Irish countryside.
We believe that economics should exist for people, not vice versa. The point was made by President Franklin Roosevelt: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld and Dr. Reba Goodman are members of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.