Hungering for a True Thanksgiving

"In the next 60 seconds, 10 children will
die of hunger," says a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) online
video. It continues, "For the first time in humanity, over 1 billion
people are chronically hungry."

The WFP launched the Billion for a Billion
campaign this week, urging the 1 billion people who use the Internet to
help the billion who are hungry. But if you think that hunger is far
from our shores, here is some food for thought ... and action: The U.S.
Department of Agriculture released a report Monday stating that in 2008
one in six households in the U.S. was "food insecure," the highest
number since the figures were first gathered in 1995.

Economist Raj Patel, author of "Stuffed
and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food
System
," told me he was "gobsmacked" by the U.S. hunger numbers, which
he finds appalling: "The reason that we have this huge increase in
hunger in the United States, as around the world, isn't because there
isn't enough food around. Actually, we produced a pretty reliable solid
crop last year. ... The reason people go hungry is because of poverty."

In addition to the online campaign, the
United Nations is hosting the World Summit on Food Security in Rome
this week, hoping to unite world leaders on the cause of eliminating
hunger. Patel remarked on the U.N. summit, "They're making all the
right sounds about hunger around the world, but as some of the
activists outside that summit are saying, poor people can't eat
promises."

Almost 700 people from 93 countries, many
of whom are small-scale food producers, have gathered outside the U.N.
summit. They are there in behalf of the People's Food Sovereignty
Forum, and they are pushing for small-scale, organic, sustainable
food-sovereignty and food-security programs, as opposed to large-scale
agribusiness with its dependence on genetically modified organisms and
chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Michelle Obama said last March
when planting the White House's organic kitchen garden, "It is so
important for them [children] to get regular fruits and vegetables in
their diets, because it does have nutrients, it does make you strong,
it is all brain food." The first lady of the U.S. made the point that a
homegrown, organic garden is a sustainable and affordable way to
strengthen family food security.

This has led some to wonder, then, why her husband has appointed Islam
Siddiqui to be the U.S. chief agricultural negotiator. Siddiqui is
currently vice president for science and regulatory affairs for
CropLife America, the main pesticide industry trade association.
According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, "This
position will enable him to keep pushing chemical pesticides,
inappropriate biotechnologies, and unfair trade arrangements on nations
that do not want and can least afford them." It was CropLife's
mid-America division that circulated an e-mail to industry members
after Michelle Obama's garden announcement, saying, "While a garden is
a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun,
CropLife Ambassador Coordinator, and I shudder."

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the
U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, engaged in a 24-hour hunger
strike over the weekend, before the food security summit kicked off. He
said in a statement, "We have the technical means and the resources to
eradicate hunger from the world so it is now a matter of political
will, and political will is influenced by public opinion." Diouf has
estimated that it would take $44 billion per year to end hunger
globally, compared with the less than $8 billion pledged recently to
that goal. Juxtapose those numbers with the amount being spent by the
United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the Center for Arms Control
and Non-Proliferation, the U.S. has spent on average about $265 million
per day in Afghanistan since the invasion of that country in 2001
(which is a much lower estimate than that provided by Nobel
Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and others). Even at that rate,
five months of military spending by the U.S. would meet Diouf's goal,
and that would be if the U.S. were the sole contributor.

Consider pausing this Thanksgiving, which
for many in the U.S. is a major feast, to reflect on the 10 children
who die of hunger every minute, and how your elected officials are
spending hundreds of billions in public funds on war.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

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