Don’t underestimate the role power plays in the issue of hunger and people’s access to food. Food brings up powerful emotions in people – it is a very primal need. And powerful people, wealthy or not, do not go hungry. Powerful institutions control the growing, manufacturing and distribution of most of the food in this country. When some people don’t have enough food, there are programs run by powerful institutions (governments and NGOs) that can often decide who gets fed, what they get fed, when they get fed, and how much. This power can be used for good, and in most cases it is. There are also many peoples and organizations without power who struggle to provide assistance to those in need. Amazing feats are accomplished every day, yet people still go hungry in Vermont and across the world.
We can all do more good, and feed more people, when we strive to understand the power dynamics at work and proactively foster understanding, cooperation and empathy towards those with little or no power.
Hungry people can often feel powerless, which leads to feelings of frustration, hopelessness and anger. I know that feeling powerless makes me angry. Imagine the weight of these feelings, day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year. “Why can’t the powerful see what is happening, and fix the problem?” Advocates for the hungry can also come to feel powerless, frustrated and angry. At the same time, the corporate or government executives believe they are doing their best under the circumstances and wonder why the advocates are so frustrated and angry, and why the advocates can’t understand how “the system” needs to work?
The truth is the reasons hunger exists are pretty well know, and many effective solutions to hunger are at our fingertips. Starvation and severe malnutrition used to be a real problem in this country, and have largely been alleviated by successful government programs. It seems that there is no political will to take the next steps and end hunger and food insecurity. The necessary decisions are resisted because they will cause someone, somewhere to lose some of their power.
Do people really stand in the way of feeding others?
Maybe not directly, but many times I have heard the concern expressed that we must guard against people who are “unqualified” or “undeserving” getting food or benefits, or that people are “abusing” the benefits they do get. I have heard this from Presidents of the United State and U.S. Senators to social service case workers, food shelf volunteers and even other recipients of help; why is there so much concern about others getting “too much?” Could it be that if someone else receives a benefit that offends our sense of fairness or right and wrong, that we feel powerless, and therefore threatened?
It is difficult and against our nature to just let go of that threatened feeling. It is especially difficult to let go of that feeling again, and again, and again, each time our slim hold on power is threatened. I struggle; we all do. We just need to summon our reserves of grace, and each time remember that people must be fed, people must eat, and all of us have a responsibility to let go of some of our own power, and insist that others do so also. So let go, you’ll be glad you did.