I was hungry and you fed me...
This simple word of Jesus may just become the defining challenge of the next decade. Throughout the world, front page news during the past week has been addressing the growing global food shortage. It's a problem that has been created by the perfect storm of erratic climate changes and drought, rising energy prices, and the growing prosperity of the working class in both India and China. This growing middle class is aspiring, of course, to live like Americans. After all, when we harvested cheap labor overseas, we did so with the promise that their increased prosperity would result in increased purchasing power.
This has resulted in nearly two billion people seeking to eat higher up on the food chain, so that lands previously given over to grains for human consumption are now directly or indirectly being used for the raising of animal protein. Add to this a further removal of grain acres, now given over to the raising of ethanol, and you can see that there's just not as much rice as there once was. All this has let to basic agricultural commodities rising in price between 40 and 300 percent over the past year.
Even a small rise in prices has the effect of pushing countless families over the edge, into starvation. According to several sources, the roots the problem go deeper than just the issues articulated above. There are more fundamental systemic issues that need to be addressed:
1. industrial farming, for all it's promises offered at the inauguration of the Green Revolution back in 1975, has failed to deliver on it's promises to end world hunger. Though production has risen temporarily, the rise has been based on an addiction to a petroleum based agricultural economy, unsustainable over the long haul.
2. The Green Revolution consolidated land holdings in the hands of a few farmers or companies, withholding economic aid to small family farmers. This has resulted in a loss of efficiency as single crops now dominate large swaths of the landscape, depleting the soil, and demaning ever increasing chemical assistance to maintain levels of production.
3. Food now travels great distances for consumption as well. This has the effect, in poor countries, of favoring the growth of expensive export crops, creating shortages of basic nutrients in the home country. Countless examples of this are offered in Reclaiming America, by Richard Austin, out of print now I believe, but available if you try hard (and in our church library).
Austin says it well: "Our food donations may keep some starving people alive, but our policies do not help them to provide for themselves. We may show mercy at times of crisis, but we aboid the truth of why people starve."
What is needed is a deep economic policy shift, as spoken of here. Perhaps we need to be honest enough to confess that a purely unrestricted free market economy might fall short of garnering support because the policy changes that are needed will necessarily lead the wealthy of the world to embrace some measures of expense, inconvenience and sacrifice. And yet, the crossroads at which we stand is not economic only. It is moral. And if Jesus has anything to say about it, it is spiritual as well. What's needed:
1) an assessment of our lifestyles...
2) a discussion among Christians about the systemic roots of global hunger
3) commitment to concrete changes - both individual and collective