Tag Archives: Hunger in America

Covid-19 and Hunger: A Double Crisis of Inequality

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a hunger crisis, and at the same time revealing vast wealth inequality

By Randy Rosenthal

Buddhist monks distributing food parcels at a temple in Sri Lanka

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a recurring headline that hardly anyone is talking about. It has never been the main story, up at the top and in large font. But it’s been there on page two or three, first in April, and then again in June, and more recently in September. I’m referring to the impact of COVID-19 on hunger, both in the U.S. and globally.

Before the pandemic began, there were about 135 million people in the world who faced crisis levels of hunger. According to a report by the UN World Food Programme’s executive director, David Beasley, that number will double over the next year, to some 270 million who will be “marching towards the brink of starvation.” In a briefing to the UN Security Council on September 15, Beasley stated that the World Food Programme (WFP) needed about $5 billion in order to prevent 30 million people from dying of starvation. Not over the next few years, but by the end of this year. Now.

Back in April, Beasley warned the Security Council that the world was on the verge of a hunger pandemic. People in India, Colombia, and Kenya were more concerned that they would die from hunger than from the coronavirus. Donors and countries heeded the call and passed a $17 trillion fiscal stimulus package, and the UN was able to help 100 million people in 88 countries. For this work, the World Food Programme was recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet in September Beasley warned that a new wave of hunger would sweep the globe and overwhelm already unstable nations reeling from violent conflict, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. Specifically, he mentions the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Yemen, currently the site of the gravest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Along with food insecurity, overall poverty rates are also drastically increasing, a reversal of three decades of progress. Nearly every nation’s economy has shrunk since April, but it is the poorest countries that have been hardest hit, those that cannot afford large setbacks. India, for example, suffered a 24% shrinking of its economic output between April and June, with about 120 million jobs lost. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 160 million people in Asia alone will be under the poverty line this year. Latin America, too, is seeing hunger rise due to economic disaster. There, according to a UN study, 45 million more people will fall under the poverty line, prompting warnings that Latin America must brace for “a lost decade.”

Yet most of the news we read regarding the pandemic is about the U.S. and Europe. There are reports on unemployment and death tolls, but many articles have headlines like these: “Can our summer vacations still be saved? What will restaurants do to stay in business once winter comes? Is it safe to fly? Or to take a train?” These questions and topics are all valid concerns, as the virus has affected each of us in our own way, and we’re all just trying to survive and stay sane. And yet these lifestyle issues clearly pale in comparison to the threat of starvation faced by 270 million people.

Seeing that nations have hesitated over committing more funds, David Beasley pivoted and addressed individuals to help. Specifically, he appealed to billionaires to pitch in, calling out those who have made “billions upon billions” during the pandemic. What does he mean by this reference? Well, just recently, a survey by the Swiss bank UBS and consultancy group PwC showed that the combined worth of the world’s 2,189 billionaires now stands at $10.2 trillion. The survey also showed that since March, when the coronavirus lockdown began, their wealth has surged to ever higher levels. How can this be possible, when so many people around the world are unemployed, sick, and suffering? The answer is stocks. Most of the gains are due to investments in technology and healthcare companies involved in developing vaccines and therapies against the coronavirus. The gap between the wealthiest .01% and everyone else has been steadily growing over the past decade, but in the words of the survey’s authors, “the COVID-19 crisis just accentuated the divergence.” In fact, the wealthiest Americans have become 170% richer.

Interestingly, and somewhat reassuringly, there has been a corresponding increase in donations by billionaires to charitable causes, with $7.2 billion given between March and June. Nearly $5 billion came from U.S. billionaires, who dwarfed their counterparts in China, India, Australia, and the UK—the survey made no mention of Russian billionaires, despite Russia having more billionaires than any other country. This philanthropy is perhaps why Beasley emphasized that he is not criticizing billionaires—after all, he’s only asking for $5 billion. “I am not opposed to people making money,” he said in his UN briefing, “but humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes.”

And yet for many of us, it doesn’t feel like the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Why is that? Is it because we don’t actually see hunger? That our news media endlessly covers Donald Trump and political pundits, but not devastated areas in Africa? If we saw just a few of the 20 million people in crisis in Yemen, would we demand our government do more to stop the fighting there?

Again, don’t get me wrong: I’m not blaming the media, especially because these stories on hunger are out there—that’s how I’m compiling this article. But these are not sexy stories. The crisis is often happening to other people, people far away, in parts of the world that are in dire situations anyway. And the causes of the global hunger crisis are complex—a combination of lost wages, disruption of food supply chains, the collapse of oil prices, the evaporation of the tourist industry, and continued disasters arising from climate change such as droughts, floods, and locust plagues are all contributing factors.

It’s so complicated, it seems like there’s nothing we can do. So, we think, we might as well meditate, read more articles about politics, watch sports, and plan our next vacation. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But we can also donate to organizations like Buddhist Global Relief, which since the COVID crisis erupted has been providing monthly donations of $3,000 to Feeding America, a central hub for U.S. food banks. This is in addition to its regular projects assisting poor communities around the world.

We can share stories about global hunger on social media. We get ourselves riled up at systemic racism and political maleficence, but we can express outrage about the hunger crisis too, condemning the larger economic system that allows a few to live in luxury while millions starve. We may not be billionaires, but each of us can help in our own way.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other publications.

BGR Supports Hunger Relief during Pandemic

By BGR Staff

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Over the past two months BGR has so far donated close to $40,000 to support communities, both globally and nationally, adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

To assist the international effort, BGR contributed $5,000 to the World Food Program USA to provide food relief to people in other countries afflicted by hunger worsened by the pandemic. While coronavirus is hurting everyone, it is hitting people in crisis zones the hardest. From Syria to Bangladesh, the virus is beginning to spread through crowded refugee camps and people living in extreme poverty. With its logistical and emergency expertise, WFP is ramping up its response to nourish and protect people already living in extremely vulnerable conditions.

We also donated $1,000 to the Karuna Trust in Sri Lanka, which is distributing food to poor families hard hit by the strict curfew currently in place in the country. The Karuna Trust is working together with the the Additional Government Agent of Matale, to assist them in feeding poor children and elders in orphanages and elders’ homes, which have no way now of obtaining food from their regular donors.

Further, BGR gave a donation of $500 to the Bangladesh Buddhist Missionary Society, a BGR partner, to support their efforts to combat the pandemic. The Society is using its spare space as a quarantine center; developing public awareness campaigns; providing hand sanitizer, masks, and other sanitation equipment; arranging for medical teams; and providing emergency food support. And more recently we donated $1,785 to White Lotus Charitable Trust’s Garden of Peace, in Tamil Nadu, India, to help the local community deal with the pandemic.

Here in the U.S., in early April BGR initially donated $7,000 to support food banks providing food relief to poor people affected by the pandemic. Donations of $1,000 each were provided to food banks in seven locations: New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, El Paso, Philadelphia, and central New Jersey. We also donated $500 to provide meals to front-line health care workers on Long Island through a project organized by the Center for Spiritual Imagination at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City.

In late April and on #Giving Tuesday in May, BGR made additional donations of $12,000 each month to twelve food banks working in New York City, Westchester County, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, South Florida, South Louisiana, Texas, southern Arizona, Los Angeles, and the World Central Kitchen. In each of those two months, donations of $1,000 were given to each of these food distribution centers. We intend to continue offering support to food banks here in the U.S., as well as to affected countries around the world. For a list of U.S. food banks, see Feeding America.

BGR is blessed to be able to contribute to the important work being done by these courageous organizations.

To help BGR continue putting compassion into action, please consider making a generous donation to BGR. We are a distinctive Buddhist organization helping poor and neglected peoples throughout the world.   

The Coronavirus Forces Us to Fix the Flaws of our Food-Supply System

By Randy Rosenthal

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The coronavirus has exposed the flaws of our food-supply system in at least two ways. One is by compelling retail food staff–grocery workers and delivery “shoppers”–to put their health at risk. The other is the widespread destruction of fresh food.

Next to the fragility of the medical industry, the coronavirus has exposed the flaws of our food-supply system—especially the vulnerability of the people who make it possible. Grocery-store workers and delivery “shoppers” in particular have found themselves taking on the first-responder risks of doctors, nurses, and EMTs. Dozens have died of COVID-19, and thousands have gotten sick. Understandably, they’re afraid to go to work. But they have to, because in order for the rest of us to eat, someone must deliver food to grocery stores, and someone must stock the shelves.

Many grocery stores have automated checkouts, but most still have clerks. And so while many of us can work from home and observe physical distancing guidelines, grocery-store workers are forced to come in proximity with hundreds of people a day. Due to this sudden and dramatic uptick in risk, the lack of safety and security that grocery companies provide their workers has become starkly apparent.

Soon after governors announced stay-at-home orders in March, supermarket workers and “shoppers” began to protest the dangerous conditions they face and the lack of health support available to them. Most live paycheck to paycheck, and cannot afford to miss work, especially because most supermarkets do not provide paid sick leave. And now workers had to expose themselves to getting sick from the coronavirus, a risk that is exacerbated by the failure of supermarkets to provide basic protective personal equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, and sanitizer.

Whole Foods particularly has come into focus for its poor treatment of its workers. As one worker reported to Oxfam America, Whole Foods did not provide PPE and actually encouraged workers to buy their own. He also reported that even if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, the store does not close to get cleaned. Nor is the information shared with other employees with whom the infected worker may have come in contact. This creates a frightening, dangerous working environment that has many grocery workers freaked out.

Whole Foods “shoppers” who deliver for Amazon Prime, as well as Instacart “shoppers,” are also on the front lines, as they deliver groceries so that we don’t have to leave our homes to get them. In normal times, these “shoppers” provide a convenience for anyone too busy or too lazy to shop for themselves. Now they are risking their lives—and the lives of anyone they come in contact with—so that we don’t have to go to the market.

In the context of this pandemic, this service is what economics calls a “positive externality,” which is when someone’s private behavior leads to broader social benefits. Here, “shoppers” for Instacart and Amazon reduce the need for people to congregate, and are therefore lowering the systematic risk of COVID-19 for everyone, allowing society to flatten the curve of infection. The grocery-delivery business is booming, with Instacart saying they’ll immensely expand their workforce, by adding 300,000 shoppers. But “shoppers,” too, have complained that they’re not provided with basic protective gear that helps keep them safe, such as hand sanitizer and masks.

All this is why many organizations like Oxfam have launched campaigns demanding that grocery stores act to support their workers. First, workers are demanding paid sick leave. Recent legislation has made paid sick leave mandatory, but only for businesses with 500 or fewer employees, leaving companies like Amazon and Whole Foods off the hook. Governments are currently trying to address this loophole, and ensure that anyone working an essential business is provided with two weeks paid sick leave, if they either test positive for COVID-19 or have to quarantine. This is a decent start, but let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Paid sick leave is an intrinsic aspect of any developed nation, and so perhaps the pandemic will force the US to catch up and leave this legislation in place.

Supermarket workers are also demanding hazard pay, which is an increase in their hourly wage to account for the increased risk. This makes sense economically. The demand for such workers has surged; their value should rise accordingly. Stores have responded with a temporary wage increase; they know that without their workers, they won’t have a business and continue making money hand-over-fist. And yet many workers still feel that the proposed $13-per-hour raise is not worth their life.

Another primary complaint is that customers are not taking care to protect the health of workers by observing physical distancing rules, and generally trying to ensure a sanitized working environment—just this week, a grocery store worker shamed my housemate for bringing a reusable bag. As a result, many grocery stores now have a limit on the number of customers allowed in a store at a given time, with signs specifying six feet of spacing.

Some stores have put up plexiglass barricades to protect the checkout clerks, and some have provided free gloves and masks. But not all have done so, and so there needs to be legislative action to enforce these safety precautions for workers across the country. Otherwise, it will be up to the managers of individual stores to make the call.

The coronavirus has forced law-makers and company owners to take a more active, broader role in safeguarding the health and economic security of workers, at least temporarily, but as the effects ripple out, the pandemic has exposed another fatal flaw of our food-delivery system: the factory-farm, market-based supply of food production.

On the one hand, the supply of meat is suddenly in peril, as large, consolidated meat-processing plants in the Midwest and South have been forced to shut due to a high number of coronavirus cases among their workers. And on the other hand, with restaurants, cafes, and schools closed down, demand for milk, eggs, vegetables, and grains across the board has plummeted. As a result, farmers have destroyed an immense percentage of their own products, as The New York Times recently reported. Tractors are crisscrossing bean and cabbage fields, destroying the crops. About 5% of the country’s milk supply is currently being dumped into lagoons and manure pits, an amount that can double as the shut-down continues. And as most people don’t make onion rings or French fries at home (I haven’t had fries for about a month!), millions of pounds of onions and potatoes are being buried in ditches, left to rot.

In normal times, many people in the world are going hungry, and millions struggle to buy food. But with the millions of people who have lost their jobs, global hunger will rise, and putting food on the table will be even more difficult. That’s why this widespread destruction of fresh food is particularly terrible.

Yes, farmers say they have donated surpluses to food banks, but without the usual delivery chains, they simply do not know what to do with their food. Their machines, they explain, are geared to package food for restaurants, in large containers, not the smaller packages for retail at grocery stories. And so, because of this food supply-chain flaw, they simply throw the food away.

Food waste is a normal part of our market-based system, but the pandemic has magnified how abominable of a waste it is. Just as the coronavirus has forced us to address the safety and economic security of grocery-store workers, it should also force us to rectify the unsustainable flaws of our market-based food-supply system as a whole. In other words, food and health are rights, not commodities.

As my colleague Keith Hartwig, an artist, designer, and researcher working in the fields of Science and Technology Studies, wrote on Instagram in response to this Times report, “We have to go deeper, to reveal what food waste and these dystopian images signify: a deeply flawed food system built on economic subsidies, models of monoculture and overproduction, unfair and unstable global trade polices and labor practices, decades of economic disparity and social injustice, unequal access to and distribution of food resources, failed urban planning, and much much more.”

At the end of his post, Hartwig asks, “Will we emerge from this and revert to the old normal, or will we emerge from this ready to create a new normal? A normal no longer rooted in greed, but a normal rooted in equity fairness, resilience, foresight, and sustainability.”

Before the pandemic, it would have been highly unlikely that we would be able to create this new normal of food justice. But now is a time not only of great challenge, but of opportunity for systemic change. And if we want to ensure the next pandemic doesn’t cause a similar catastrophe, we’d be wise to fix the exposed flaws of our food-supply system, from production to delivery, so that it prioritizes health and sustainability.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other publications.

 

 

 

Promoting a Food-Sovereign City in Detroit

By Patricia Brick

This year Buddhist Global Relief’s partner Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) celebrated its sixth anniversary of supporting gardeners and creating food distribution pathways to ensure as many Detroit residents as possible have access to nutritious locally grown fruits and vegetables.

With a median household income below $31,000, nearly 38 percent of Detroit residents live below the poverty line, and 42 percent of households rely on food assistance programs to feed their families. KGD was founded to promote a food-sovereign city, in which all Detroit residents have access to healthy, sustainably cultivated food grown by Detroiters within the city limits. Through the long-standing Garden Resource Program, founded in 2003, KGD provides seeds, transplants, and resources to support Detroiters in growing their own food gardens and securing access to fresh, low-cost vegetables.
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Taking Food Out of Poor Kids’ Mouths

By Randy Rosenthal

The US Department of Agriculture has proposed restricting access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (known as “food stamps”) on the ostensible grounds that it is necessary to close a loophole in the program. But the real reason, it appears, is an ideological commitment to lowering taxes on the rich and cutting government spending on the poor. 

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Back in 1964, President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty, which aimed to eradicate the conditions of poverty by providing American citizens with access to food, education, and a secure retirement. Today, the Trump Administration is leading a War against the Poor, which aims to do the opposite. The most recent and blatant act in this war is the US Department of Agriculture’s proposal to restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

On July 23, the USDA released a statement about the proposal, which aims to save $2.5 billion by taking 3 million people off of food stamps. The statement doesn’t mention it, but 500,000 of these people are children who will automatically lose access to free school lunches.

The ostensible rationale behind the proposal is that there is “a loophole” that needs to be closed: low income participants receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically eligible for food stamps. Because of this policy, which is designed to help transition families toward economic independence, the USDA claims that people are receiving assistance when they clearly don’t need it. To support this claim, they point to a Minnesota man who enrolled in the program, even though he was a millionaire. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 5 (conclusion)

By BGR Staff

23. U.S.: Urban Farming in Detroit

Nearly 40% of Detroit residents live below the poverty line and 21% of metro Detroiters are food insecure. Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) was established to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits. The aim is not only to provide residents with seeds to increase food security but to achieve “food sovereignty,” where residents are the leaders and beneficiaries of a transformed food system, able to make decisions about the health, wealth, and future of their families and community.

The grant from BGR will support KGD’s ongoing programs. These include: (1) The Garden Resource Program, which helps increase access to healthy food by providing technical and resource support to 1,500 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, including 400 new gardens in 2017. Together these gardens will produce over 180 tons of fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce for predominately low-income families and engage more than 16,000 residents. (2) Twenty-two events including 16 educational workshops and 6 garden workdays reaching 440 residents. At these events a diverse pool of community leaders and instructors, many Garden Resource growers, will provide hands-on instruction on basic gardening, water conservation, and food preservation techniques to build the skills and confidence of urban farmers. Annually renewable project

24. Vietnam: Enhanced Homestead Food Production

This is the second year of a three-year partnership between BGR and Helen Keller International that addresses household food security for residents of Muong Lang Commune, in Son La Province, a remote mountainous region in the northwest of Vietnam. There is high malnutrition in this region, which is a contributing factor to 50% of infant and childhood deaths. The Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program trains multi-generation families to increase year-round food production with more diversified crops to improve nutrition and thereby to improve health. In all over 100 families in 10 villages will benefit from the program (approximately 550 individuals). The grant from BGR sponsors a third of the program.

In year two, an additional ten communities will benefit from the establishment of Village Model Farms (VMF)—a community based resource for training and technical support for the roughly ten families that typically make up each small village. Within each village a community husband and wife are identified and trained as the VMF demonstration farmers. These VMFs will provide agriculture resources for the community households (i.e. seeds),  educate families on nutrient rich crops, and  provide hands on training including bio-composting, crop diversification,  sanitation and hygiene, and even marketing strategies for income generation from sale of excess food production. The family model empowers women to actively contribute to the improved health of their village.
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Reconnecting Homeless Youth to Food, the Earth, and Spirit

Taz Tagore

Grants from BGR have provided not only food to homeless youth, but opportunities for companionship and a sense of belonging.

For the past 10 years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly to support homeless and foster-care youth aged 13–26 in their transformation from impoverished persons living in a shelter to educated, employed youngsters playing a leadership role in society. With BGR support, Reciprocity is expanding its Urban Food Project, taking youth upstate to spend time working on small organic farms where they learn the basics of planting, harvesting, and cooking fresh organic meals. Below is a six-months report from Reciprocity Foundation co-founder Taz Tagore.

The second half of 2016 was one of the most meaningful and challenging periods in our organization’s history! It has been a year of great change—some of the changes involved loss and others involved finding new inspiration, allies, and community.  While I want to summarize where we have been in 2016, I also want to address the enormous energy building at Reciprocity to invent a more courageous, visionary and loving model for transformation in the world. But first, our work in the past year…
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

21. Peru: Vocational Education Training for Poor Women
NEW PARTNER

Founded in 1989, the Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) is devoted to providing vocational education to women and mothers employed in domestic work while teaching them about their human and labor rights. The Association runs an employment agency, La Casa de Panchita, to help women find jobs with adequate pay and respect for their skills.

This BGR partnership–along with the Nicaragua project our first in Latin America–will benefit women who have been employed in domestic work from childhood. The women find themselves struggling to provide proper nutrition, shelter, and other amenities to their families due to a paucity of employment options.These women are trapped in poverty, and as a result their daughters too will be trapped, thus perpetuating the cycle.

To break the poverty trap into which many girls are born, AGTR empowers women and mothers through vocational educational training. Through a grant from BGR, AGTR will provide training to 100 marginalized women who wish to undertake domestic work, while also giving access to employment through their employment agency. Utilizing an adequate salary, these women and their families will escape the misery of hunger, while their daughters escape the need to work and can remain in school. The women will be taught about their human and labor rights and will be given access to AGTR’s in-house employment agency, which upholds the standards of the organization.

Woman and Boys

No more kids under 14 working

The Vocational Educational Training (VET) workshops are divided into three 3- hour sessions. The women will learn about their labor rights as domestic workers, become better prepared to negotiate a just salary, and learn about the social benefits such as healthcare available to all individuals who are employed full time. After students complete the training, they are equipped to begin their search for just and decent employment. Continue reading

“Our City is Growing!”: BGR’s Partner, Keep Growing Detroit

The following is the annual report sent to BGR by its partner, Keep Growing Detroit. Thanks to Ashley Atkinson, director of KGD, for providing the report.

KGD_Boc Choi-1

 

The Garden Resource Program

With approximately 40 square miles of vacant land and headlines reporting a city on the brink of collapse, the news of Detroit may seem grim. However, if you walk the streets and talk to the many dedicated and resilient city residents, including the more than 15,600 residents that participate in Keep Growing Detroit’s Garden Resource Program (GRP), you’ll see they are writing a much more inspiring story with a headline that reads, “Our City is Growing”!

Their story tells a tale of our great city’s transformation, which begins with seeds planted in 1,375 gardens in the rich soil surrounding community centers, block clubs, churches, and in backyards of families across the city. Read deeper and you’ll see that these 805 family, 424 community, 56 school, and 90 market gardens are not just growing delicious and healthy food, they are a model for how once industrial urban centers struggling with economic and social challenges can use urban gardens as a tool to build a greener future for their city, with strong families, thriving communities, and robust local food economies. Continue reading

Fixing a Broken Food System

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As the presidential campaign heats up, a coalition of organizations has launched a new initiative that’s also taking aim at the White House. The initiative, called The Plate of the Union, brings together the Union of Concerned Scientists, Food Policy Action, the Food Policy Action Educational Fund, and HEAL Food Alliance in a campaign intended to fix our broken food system. Starting its drive at the top of the political hierarchy, the coalition seeks to confront the US presidential candidates with the challenge of recognizing that the US food system is in crisis. Continue reading