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Debunking the #1 myth about hunger

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Students in the “low income” group share a simple meal of rice at an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet at Northeastern University on November 16, 2014. This fall, volunteers around the country are organizing interactive Oxfam America Hunger Banquets as a way to educate others about the inequalities of hunger. Photo: Coco McCabe/Oxfam America

From famous food writers to volunteers, we’re all on the same page: It’s time to change how we think about food and inequality.

By Nancy Delaney, associate director for community engagement at Oxfam America

It seems that lately Mark Bittman and I have been saying the same thing to whoever will listen. Granted, Bittman is one of America’s leading food writers and thinkers, so his circle is a bit broader than mine. But our message is the same: To feed the world’s growing population, we need to change the way we think about hunger.

In Bittman’s recent piece in The New York Times, “Don’t Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion”, he debunks a very common misconception—that hunger is caused by a scarcity of food. He writes:

The difference between you and the hungry is not production levels; it’s money. There are no hungry people with money; there isn’t a shortage of food, nor is there a distribution problem. There is an I-don’t-have-the-land-and-resources-to-produce-my-own-food, nor-can-I-afford-to-buy-food problem. …

So we should not be asking, “How will we feed the world?” but “How can we help end poverty?” Claiming that increasing yield would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars or private jets would guarantee that everyone had one.

When I read that, I thought of some other words from the script for the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet®, words which I’ve heard so many times I can almost recite them by heart:

You may think hunger is about too many people and too little food. That is not the case. Our rich and bountiful planet produces enough food to feed every woman, man, and child on earth. Hunger is about power. Its roots lie in inequalities in access to resources.

If you’ve attended an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, you probably still remember it. At this interactive event, the place where you sit, and the meal that you eat, are determined by the luck of the draw—just as in real life some of us are born into relative prosperity and others into poverty. Depending on which ticket you draw when you walk in the door, you could enjoy a sumptuous meal at a well-set table… or nibble on a handful of rice while sitting on the floor.

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Sydney Mokel, right, shares her experiences during an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet at Northeastern University. Photo: Coco McCabe/Oxfam America

My job is to help people understand the root causes of hunger and poverty, and the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet is one of the most powerful tools we have in this effort. It’s a way to not only illustrate, but to experience, the reality that Bittman talks about in his column. It makes you realize that hunger—in the US and around the world—is a result of deep-rooted inequalities, and that some of us never have a chance to be on a level playing field.

While I may have lost count of how many Oxfam America Hunger Banquets I’ve attended over the years, I am always struck by their capacity to shift the way people think. These events never fail to challenge the myths about hunger that we’ve all built up in our minds.

This week, just days before our lovely Thanksgiving holiday, volunteers will organize Oxfam America Hunger Banquets across the country, on campuses, at faith congregations, in offices, and schools. When I see people giving their time and energy to host events of their own, I think of it as evidence of how deeply Americans care about the inequality of hunger. And I believe that each event is a step toward possible solutions. I’ll be joining them—and I hope you will, too.

Find out how to attend or host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet here.

Read more blogs about Oxfam volunteers.

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  1. circleone@newmexico.com'Kassy

    What’s missing in this conversation is that hunger has been caused by ignorant distribution and management of food.
    GMO’s became popular because the “reason” was that they could feed more people at less cost. But the problem is that GMO’s cause serious health issues when consumed on a daily basis. Everyone can be taught to cultivate their own gardens. People need to stop being competitive with one another and live on this planet as One.

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