Why do we have so much food, but people are still hungry? 

I went through most of my college career pondering this question. In a world of such complexity, you would think that reallocating food supplies from those who have too much to those who have too little would be a relatively simple measure. However, as I have come to learn, creating meaningful, just allocation of food within our food system is a challenge meshed within the confines of corporate greed and a political system built on exploitation. 

Not many authors are able to identify the systemic forces that continue to enforce poverty and hunger in the U.S. or abroad. While some authors, like the world-renowned Michael Pollan, argue that Americans would be better off if they just "chose" to eat Brussel Sprouts instead of Cheez-Puffs, rarely do they acknowledge that the contemporary food system needs to shift its priorities in order to make an just, ethical food environment for all. One of the authors who has posed significant challenges toward food dialogue is Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups. 

I was first exposed to Fisher's work during my Human Health in the Food Systems class at UVM. My professor introduced the book with the statement: "This is probably going to piss some- if not most- of you off."

And indeed it did. 

I've volunteered at a food pantry for a good chunk of my college career. I've held the green cards of migrant families in my hands, felt the sadness of having to tell our members that our food deliveries were done for the day, and even had members shed tears when they told stories about how summer bug infestations had ruined any stock of food they were collecting. All the while, I thought I was doing "good" for these people by working at the food pantry. But after reading Big Hunger, I felt less-than-great about my perceived altruism. 

Fisher's central argument is that the emergency food system, which includes a national network of food pantries, global food aid, and relief efforts, actually only serves to entrench hunger within our society. It does not lift people out of poverty, nor does it improve food security for households. Corporations, which hold tremendous influence over the emergency food system via [tax-exempt] donations, involvement on executive committees, and financial donations, are more inclined to promote emergency assistance rather than programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or advocate for higher wages precisely because they would have less profit leverage. Fisher notes that it isn't just ironic that many of the people who work for Walmart and Kroger, two of the biggest Feeding America donors, are often those who receive emergency food relief services most frequently.

At first, I was angry that Fisher had the audacity to say that feeding people through emergency assistance isn't the best thing that society could do to help those in need. However, after considering my own experiences as a volunteer, I've considered how food pantries need to be viewed (by policymakers) more as a non-desirable, short-term, "stepping stone" to food equity rather than a permanent solution. Rather than just focusing on increasing sheer quantity of food coming through the doors, the "success" of food pantries should be measured by the number of people they uplift from food insecurity and poverty. Furthermore, it will be impossible to move people out of grinding poverty unless food pantries utilize a community-building, empowering approach to advocate for better wages, transportation equity, jobs, and fair housing. 

Although a key focus of this book is on hunger and consumer food procurement, Fisher identifies many locations where corporations and food access intersect with other food issues: particularly obesity, crop subsidies, and genetic modification. Fisher underlines the importance of human dignity and wellbeing, which are topics that the contemporary food system rarely addresses as being key components to a more fair and just food system. The truth of the matter is that many food pantries and emergency food services purposefully avoid advocating on behalf of policies that would pull people out of poverty because it would upset their corporate donors and multi-billion dollar "industrial-hunger complex." 

If anything, this book really made me question what the end goal of the emergency food system is. In a system where there will always be excess food production and lines are not going to be shortened through improving public assistance- would it be possible to have a world where this kind of food aid doesn't need to exist? Shouldn't we be working towards ending the reasons why people seek assistance anyways? 

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about what goes into "our daily bread" and what some successful organizations are doing to both feed hungry people and ensure their longterm socioeconomic welfare. Some of these programs include ones that increase the employability of community residents within the food service industry, foster business management skills among recipients, and overall treat their members with dignity, honor, and respect. 

You can purchase a copy of Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups here. You can also find Andy Fisher's blog here, which goes more in depth as to what can be done to solve the hunger crisis.