Hunger in the United States: New Frame
According to the United Nations, the world produces enough food to feed 10 billion people. Yet this year, even in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, one in three American families with children went hungry. Even before the pandemic in 2019, official statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture indicated that 35 million people were hungry, including 10 million children.
The Covid-19 pandemic has inflated the situation, exposing even those who felt “safe” to the possibility of going without food. In a society where food is not a human right but a commodity to be purchased, how were people supposed to eat if they couldn’t work?
The short answer: they didn’t. With almost no help from the federal government, American workers have been laid off by the millions. Overnight, people suddenly wondered where their next meal would come from. Families were forced to choose between buying life-saving medicine and buying enough food to feed their families.
Indeed, in early summer 2021, 63 million people in the United States told government investigators they were unable to afford their usual household expenses, including balancing food and spending. rent, but also student loans and drugs.
The burden is also unevenly shared. Black adults were three times more likely and Latino adults more than twice as likely as white adults to report insufficient nutrition.
The struggle to survive
It was in this context that the Unity and Survival program was born in the city of Philadelphia, a representative example of the type of “mutual aid programs” that emerged in the United States during the pandemic. The initiative, launched by the Philadelphia Liberation Center, was aimed at fulfilling duties the government failed to fulfill during the global pandemic. He had a simple task: to identify the people of Philadelphia who had difficulty obtaining food, to deliver it to them and to build a stronger community network to mobilize in favor of the right to life.
One distribution network in particular was a crucial part of the program, as one volunteer organizer noted: “There was a high degree of fear and uncertainty and reluctance on the part of many residents, not only in this neighborhood. , but I am sure all over the city and the country to expose themselves to the Covid virus. With so many older people and people with chronic health conditions in the area, we felt that we needed to organize not only the supplies, but the network to distribute them. “
Initially, the organizers of the Unity and Survival program sought food donations and created a GoFundMe campaign to pay for groceries. The online fundraising platform has become a popular way for people to fund basic needs like food and medical bills during the pandemic as government support was insufficient. The Unity and Survival program provided crucial assistance to families in dire straits during this early period, which garnered national attention and support for the initiative.
Within months, the program caught the attention of nonprofit groups across the city. They started donating boxes of food, dramatically increasing the amount of food delivered. The program has also broadened its reach by adding community members to the delivery teams.
Organizers of the Unity and Survival program identified community leaders and food box recipients who wanted to support the initiative and made them “neighborhood leaders”. Neighborhood captains were responsible for ensuring that food boxes containing groceries were delivered to their own neighborhoods, thereby multiplying the reach of the program.
One of the notable factors of the boulder captain network is the importance of a familiar and trustworthy face, which helps overcome the shame that comes with seeking help in a society with an extremely individualistic and ethical “ up to the task ”.
As one block captain noted, “My main goal when handing out food is for people to get the resources they need without feeling judged by it, without having any kind of barriers.
The Philadelphia Liberation Center was also able to mobilize the support of community organizations with which it had worked in the past in various social struggles. For example, he joined forces with the Norris Square Community Action Network, which is active in anti-gentrification struggles.
It also reached out to the faith community, in partnership with a church, La Vid Verdadera, with which members of the Liberation Center were already working to mentor immigrants from Central America as part of a joint community education program, Escualita. Oscar Romero.
The Philadelphia Liberation Center estimates that it has delivered 100,000 meals so far, a number that continues to grow every week. At its peak, the Unity and Survival program served 1,000 families every week and currently serves 750 families, underscoring the continuing persistence of hunger, even with a slight downturn in the pandemic in the United States.
“We are now getting to a point where we can get a constant flow of food and supplies, which is amazing because just five months ago we had very limited means, and now we have come to a point where we are we can look to develop this program even further, ”said another organizer of the Unity and Survival program.
System change, no charity
Members of the Philadelphia Liberation Center were proud of the device they had built, but they all said the same about its weaknesses: It was not big enough to cope with the scale of the problem. Although the program has been able to feed tens of thousands of people in Philadelphia, tens of millions of people go hungry in the United States.
The Unity and Survival program gives us a glimpse of what is possible, but it should be expanded to a level that only state authorities can achieve to dramatically reduce poverty in any way. The program has demonstrated that the people of Philadelphia are ready and willing to work for food sovereignty in their city – what is missing is the political will.
This is why, in its literature and outreach, the Unity and Survival program actively challenges the notion that food can be bought and sold for profit, making it clear that this is the very reason hunger exists. in the first place.
This was something that was clear at the height of the pandemic last year when videos of farmers throwing away unsold milk and crushing unwanted vegetables with tractors went viral. From the perspective of a profit-driven system, the crops were worthless because they could not be sold.
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Destroying crops makes sense if your goal is to maximize profits, but it doesn’t make sense if your goal is to end hunger. There is no incentive to create sustainable structures of food production and delivery under capitalism, in fact 40% of all food produced in the United States ends up in the trash.
Reflecting on these realities, another program volunteer said Breakthrough: “You know, that’s why we are socialists. We believe that only the working class can take care of itself. The bourgeois, they are not going to suddenly become nice and decide to be charitable when, when they become charitable, it is only for their own preservation.
Ending hunger, as the Unity and Survival program emphasizes, is only possible by adopting a socio-economic system that aims to maximize human well-being, not benefit a few.
World hunger is a collaborative series produced by ARG Medios, Brasil de Fato, Breakthrough News, Madaar, New Frame, NewsClick and Peoples Dispatch.