Category Archives: Politics & food justice

Many Americans Don’t Get Enough Food

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

While the United States proclaims itself the land of limitless opportunity, the shining “nation on a hill” where dreams of prosperity and success become true, the reality on the ground often belies this pastel rhetoric. The reason for this failure is not lack of resources but policies determined by voodoo economics and rabid cruelty. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. Too many workers are earning poverty-level wages. Too many programs that provide critical assistance to the neediest of our fellow citizens are being cut. Yet the big shots in Congress, who lecture the poor about the need to work hard, still subscribe to the belief that cutting taxes for the rich and granting subsidies to big business will result in rising incomes for everyone else.

One of the most effective measures in assessing a country’s real economic health is the extent of food insecurity among its population. Figures from reliable sources indicate that a shocking number of Americans perpetually live in the shadows of hunger. Over 46 million Americans–roughly 1 in 7 people–are dependent on SNAP, the food stamps program, which has been in the crossfires of a radically regressive Congress. If funding for the program is cut still further, the number of SNAP recipients will go down while the number of people unable to obtain sufficient food will rise.
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The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A new report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food maintains that the right to food, poverty alleviation, and the reduction of global carbon emissions can all be facilitated by transitioning from the industrial model of agriculture to an agro-ecological system that benefits small-scale producers.

Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats. But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on sub-standard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat, or corn.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming “the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.” Yet too often this right is neglected or trampled upon. To remedy this situation, in 2000 the UN Commission on Human Rights established the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Since 2008, this position has been held by Olivier De Schutter, who has spent the past six years seeking ways to ensure that the right to food is fully realized. His final report, issued in March, documents his conclusions and recommendations. Though written in the cool, impersonal language of the policy expert, the report conveys a truly bold message with transformative implications for the future of the global food system.
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The Price of Dignity

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

When it comes to eliminating poverty, private charity cannot replace public policy, and public policy must be guided by a moral perspective. We have the resources to overcome poverty. The big question, as always, is whether we have the will to do so.

Fifty years ago this month, in his first State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Johnson saw this as a national priority and he urged Congress and the American people to join him in the endeavor “to help that one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs.” It was, he said, a war we “can afford to win,” one that we could “not afford to lose.”  

Johnson understood that to improve the condition of the destitute, we had to attack the root causes of poverty, and not merely its symptoms. In the years that followed, his administration launched a volley of programs, many of which are still with us today, to offer the poor better education, better healthcare, better jobs, and better homes. They included Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, better funding for K-12 education, loans to low-income college students, housing assistance for low-income families, and legal aid for the poor. Under Johnson, the food stamp pilot project became a permanent program that would eventually eliminate severe malnutrition, which, in the early 1960s, made parts of the U.S. seem as if they were in a Third World country.
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Light from the Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On Wednesday of last week, the same day that I was writing my recent blogpost highlighting the need not to make cuts to food stamps–“Nourishing Change,” published August 1st–the New York Times published an article about the likely impact that cuts in funding for food stamps would have on the poor.  I only got to see the Times article Friday afternoon (August 2nd) through a link sent to me in an email. While my post was written independently, the Times article confirms my case.

The article, “House Plan on Food Stamps Would Cut 5 Million From Program,” by Ron Nixon, features a study released on Tuesday by the Health Impact Project in Washington, which points out that if the House proposal to cut food stamps by $20.5 billion were enacted, 5 million people would lose eligibility for the program. Of these, a half million do not even get enough to eat now, with the aid of food stamps. An additional 160,000 to 305,000 recipients who do get enough to eat would also lose their eligibility and the ability to adequately feed themselves. Continue reading

Nourishing Change

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

For months members of the House of Representatives wrangled over how much in cuts they would make to the nation’s food stamps program in the new Farm Bill they were in process of drafting. On July 11th, by a vote of 216 to 208, the House finally passed a bill, and guess what? The bill does not include any funding for food stamps.  Opposition to the bill was strong—all Democrats joined by twelve Republicans voted against it—but the majority prevailed, reflecting the agenda of Tea Party ideologues and conservative deficit hawks who dominate in the House.

The vote does not mean that food stamps are about to be consigned to the dust bin of history. The House version of the bill still has to be reconciled with the Senate version, which includes allocations for food stamps, and the White House has said President Obama would veto any bill that drops food aid. Republicans have tried to mollify opposition with a promise to draft a separate food-stamp bill in the near future, and even some advocates for hunger relief applaud the separation of food aid from subsidies for Big Agribusiness. Continue reading

More Food or New Colonialism for Africa?

Charles W. Elliott

In a recent (June 30, 2013) speech in Cape Town, South Africa, U.S. President Obama announced new overtures to support agriculture in Africa.  But the people of Africa need to be on their guard lest these renewed efforts to “help farmers” in Africa become mere Trojan horses for corporate colonialism.

President Obama declared that “Governments and businesses from around the world are sizing up the continent, and they’re making decisions themselves about where to invest their own time and their own energy.”  With phrases invoking American generosity, he proclaimed that:

Instead of shipping food to Africa, we’re now helping millions of small farmers in Africa make use of new technologies and farm more land.  And through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture that grows more crops, brings more food to market, give farmers better prices[.]

No one would complain if the United States and its corporate partners would help “millions of small farmers” grow more food.  But we wonder: what kind of agriculture is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of investment?  And what are the “new technologies” that purportedly will help those millions of small farmers?
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Giving Everyone a Place at the Table

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This past Friday, Bill Moyers hosted a conversation of the type we need to hear more often on the problem of hunger in America. The program featured a long interview with Kristi Jacobson and Mariana Chilton that revolved around their new documentary, A Place at the Table, which Jacobson directed and produced and in which Chilton plays a prominent role. Though I have not yet seen the film myself, Moyers calls it “one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in years.” Continue reading

The Values That Guide Us

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, also known as “food stamps,” comes up for renewal every five years as part of the federal farm bill. Normally, its passage is a routine matter that engenders little debate. This year, however, things worked out differently. Different versions of the bill were recently brought up for a vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, both versions tagged with signs of the Right’s fierce austerity campaign. The bill approved by the Senate would cut food stamps by $4 billion over the next ten years. The bill considered by the House proposed slashing funding for SNAP by $20.5 billion over a ten-year period. The House bill was defeated this past Thursday (June 19th), but the reason it went down was because a cluster of Republicans, convinced the cuts did not go far enough, voted against it. The ultimate fate of the farm bill is not yet knowable, but one thing is clear: families that depend on SNAP would suffer greatly from such severe cuts.
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Standing Together Against SNAP Cuts

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that guides and authorizes funding for federal farm and food policies, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as food stamps. Every five years, Congress renews the Farm Bill.  The last time the bill was renewed was in 2008, and this year it is up for reauthorization.

Last month versions of the bill emerged from the Agricultural Committees of the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both versions make devastating cuts to SNAP, demonstrating a degree of cruelty that is both shocking and shameful on the part of those who are supposed to represent us in crafting public policy. On May 14th, by a vote of 15 to 5, the Senate’s Agricultural Committee passed its version of the bill (S 954) with cuts to SNAP of $4 billion over the next ten years. Two days later, on May 16th, the House of Representatives proved even more callous with a version of the bill (HR 1947) that would cut SNAP by $20.5 billion over ten years. If a bill were to be passed in line with either version, it would in effect be pulling plates of food off the tables of hungry kids. And this from the same Congress that obstinately insists on preserving tax cuts for multi-millionaires and grants subsidies to giant agricultural corporations.
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Time to Draw a Line in the Tar Sands

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The impact of climate change on global food security is sure to be one of the most critical issues we’ll be facing in the years ahead. Since agricultural productivity depends on a stable and congenial climate, we cannot tamper with the climate without jeopardizing the world’s food supply. Over the past decade we’ve seen how a warming climate has triggered long droughts, violent hurricanes, torrential storms, and searing heat waves, reducing yields of essential food commodities. Policy expert Lester Brown writes ominously: “Extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system.”[1]

As an organization dedicated to the battle against hunger and malnutrition, Buddhist Global Relief is deeply concerned with how we’re altering the climate. In our view alleviating hunger calls not merely for acts of philanthropy but also for a vigorous effort to counteract the forces responsible for hunger, among which global warming is now the most formidable. Tackling climate change requires in the first place a commitment to honesty and truth. We can’t hide behind the mask of denial and we can’t afford the luxury of delay. We have to recognize that the primary cause of global warming is human behavior: our carbon-driven economy, our frenzied consumerist culture, and the hunger of fossil fuel corporations for ever greater profits.
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