Divine Possibility: Ending Hunger by 2030
“Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares an unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.”1
President Johnson’s announcement, 50 years old now, still rings horrendously true. A broken immigration system, an empire mentality, dysfunctional public schools, black and brown genocide in our city streets, and chronically unproductive legislative structures – because of these 21st-century conditions, too many Americans still live on the outskirts of hope.
“Poverty talk” is important, but a more accurate way to understand the poverty struggle is to speak of food security and insecurity. Since 1989, food security has been understood as “access by all people at all times to enough food for active and healthy life.”2 Accessibility takes two forms: availability of food and ability to acquire food. Chronic or transitory, food insecurity paints a more honest and holistic picture of the food crisis and poverty here and abroad.
Today, 50 million Americans live in food insecure households.3 This condition disproportionately affects Americans of color. The food insecurity rate for blacks is 25.1; for Hispanics, 26.2 percent.4 As a teacher in the Mississippi Delta, I witnessed the grave impact of food insecurity and poverty on families, communities, and especially children. Their futures are drastically limited by poor access to nutritious food. One in four children is poor in America, and consequently 32 million children depend on a free or reduced school lunch,5 the only full-course meal that many of them have for the day.
Internationally, food insecurity is dramatically worse. Some 1.7 billion people experience chronic food insecurity, primarily populations in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia. Those numbers rose significantly during the 2008 global economic recession. Even as international markets rebound, food and fuel prices remain uncertain and volatile, intensifying a complex poverty crisis.
Poverty’s face is changing, and the statistics are often dire. Yet there is reason for hope. In fact, poverty’s eradication is closer than ever before. Various trends – political and spiritual – make the goal of eliminating hunger and food insecurity by 2030 not a dream but a pragmatic possibility.
New Kind of Arsenal
First, foreign policy experts and governments have embraced “smart power,” a strategy that situates poverty reduction alongside military and diplomacy in order to combat global terrorism and solidify American foreign policy legitimacy.6 Smart power has long been an unofficial tool of American diplomacy, but in recent years American politicians have embraced it as the way to respond to the international challenges of the 21st century.
The strategy is: Combat extremism by investing in education, technology, and food programs. Eliminate the vulnerabilities of poverty that make radicalization possible. Smart power is now in the policy arsenal of most developed countries. Rich countries are investing unprecedented dollars toward poverty reduction to ensure stability and exert influence throughout high-conflict regions. The United Kingdom, in 2013 alone, spent 11.3 billion pounds on international aid. 7 Non-state actors such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank invest in anti-poverty policies through debt relief and development. Under President Obama, the U.S. State Department has doubled the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the executive agency tasked with issues of food aid and humanitarian assistance. Hunger reduction continues to infiltrate American mainstream political discourse and policy circles.
Another sign of hope: Social justice is a larger priority for faith institutions and theological education. Congregations are embracing strands of political theology to fight poverty and hunger.
Involvement looks different for each community. Some groups run local soup kitchens and food giveaways. Others ask Congress to support strong poverty-reduction policies. Others directly invest in building schools and libraries in underdeveloped countries. Another trend is the collective mobilization of their church, typically the national body, to divest from companies that do not support their vision of justice. Thanks to progressive theological education, new generations of faith leaders are demanding that social justice be central to a prophetic gospel in ecclesial bodies, businesses, and global corporations.
The Exodus From Hunger
Finally, we’ve made enormous progress already. U.S. poverty has declined by 10 percent since Johnson’s War on Poverty. This success did not happen haphazardly. It’s a direct result of policies that privilege justice and people who happen to be hungry.
Successes are measurable globally too: Since 1990, extreme poverty has been cut in half. Countries like Ghana, South Korea, and Brazil are now global economies. One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals – to cut hunger in half by 2015 – has nearly been reached. Its goal to end hunger by 2030 is doable, if the U.S. and other governments keep attention focused on making the world hunger-free.
What can people of faith do? Ending hunger will not happen without a move of God. For the Old Testament prophets, food was, in effect, a basic human right. They remind us to seek justice for everyone, especially the orphan and the widow, so that everyone has enough to eat. There is no shortage of biblical support for food justice and God’s continued grace. So we must pray and act. Pursue food justice locally. Urge policymakers to embrace poverty-reduction strategies. Leverage your voices and your votes.
In this election season, consider contacting your federal legislators about eliminating hunger in the world. Tell them you are moved by God’s grace to work to end hunger by 2030, and your vote depends on their support for poverty-reduction policies. Encourage your church to pray for the end of hunger in its weekly devotionals, Bible study, and worship.
We are closer than ever to our exodus from hunger. God invites us to join this wonderful movement of faithful people who see their salvation and love for God inextricably linked to their work and call to do justice for all of humanity.
Derick Dailey ’14 M.A.R. is a member of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute of the World Council of Churches and a board member of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. He is now studying at Hofstra Law School in Hempstead, N Y.
1 Lyndon B. Johnson’s Jan. 8, 1964, State of the Union Address.
2 Poverty and Hunger: Issues and Options for Food Security in Developing Countries, World Bank Policy Study, 1986.
3 Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Mark Nord, and Anita Singh, Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. USDA, Economic Research Service, 2013.
4 “Disparities in Food Insecurity,” Food and Research and Action Center, http://frac.org/reports-andresources/ hunger-and-poverty/disparities-in-foodinsecurity.
5 National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet, USDA, http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/ NSLPFactSheet.pdf.
6 Joseph Nye, “Get Smart: Combining Hard and Soft Power,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2009.
7 Sajid Javid, UK Budget, March 19, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/