Kathmandu, Nepal. Click image to view detail.
No person in any city or any country should have to beg for food. Yet too many people are going hungry or barely subsisting, largely due to job losses and government cutbacks. In 2014, charity-run food banks in many countries report an increased demand for their services - both for soup kitchens where meals are served daily and for local food banks, which provide basic groceries for the needy.
Where governments have turned a blind eye, charities, churches and individuals have stepped in to help fill the void. The United Kingdom recently opted out of the European Parliament's fund to provide food aid to those suffering extreme poverty, depriving UK food banks of £3m of much-needed resources. In London, the Cameron government claims "food and material aid measures are better and more efficiently delivered by individual member states through their own social programmes." Yet the UK government undermines its own stated aims with inaction, obfuscation and denial. Several out-of-touch Tory politicians - including Lord Tebbit and Edwina Currie - have gone on record claiming there's "no need" for food banks and that those who use such services are scroungers, spending their meager grocery money on other things.
Faced with a government in denial of food poverty - now a bigger public health concern than diet, according to one public health specialist - too many people are forced to turn to food banks. And these food banks are operated largely by charities or compassionate individuals, not poorly-funded local councils.
David Walker, a Church of England bishop writing in The Guardian reminds us of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's words: "When you've fished enough people out of the river, it's time to take a walk upstream and see who's pushing them in." "And what seems to be casting people in ever increasing numbers into the waters is less a matter of specific policies and more about Britain's scapegoat culture," Walker said. "We've got to a point where it is widely believed that it is better for 10 innocent people to suffer than for one individual to get away with cheating the system."
Children going hungry
Sound familiar? Similar scenarios are playing out every day in the United States, thanks in part to certain privileged members of Congress voting to cut foodstamps and slash benefits - even as more and more people become unemployed and struggle to survive. Like certain Tories in the UK, these wealthy Congressmen falsely believe that those who are struggling are either "lazy" or drug addicts. They refuse to accept that wrong-headed government and corporate decisions help perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger and ill health that grips at least 16 percent of the population.
Alas, children represent a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States. In 2012 the US Census Bureau reported that one in five American children live below the poverty threshold (just $23,050 for a family of four). A 2013 UNICEF report revealed the United States has the second-highest child poverty rates in the developed world (only Romania fares worse!) And if children are hungry, it stands to reason they may have difficulty concentrating on schoolwork and learning - dramatically affecting not only their health, but their future prospects.
Recently in Utah, a school took away 40 to 50 children's lunches, because their parents' payments were in arrears. In Texas, a boy's breakfast was tossed in the trash, because he lacked 30 cents to pay his account balance. In Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey similar disturbing incidents have been reported.
In Kentucky, more than 40 students in the Kenton County School District were denied lunch during state testing week, because their accounts were overdue. This sorry episode prompted one parent - appalled at the school's harsh treatment of students - to pay $56, so that no students would miss lunch. Good samaritans in other towns also have made blanket school lunch payments, so that no students go hungry.
But in Minnesota, some schools send children home with the words "MONEY" or "LUNCH" stamped across their hand! Apparently it's not enough humiliation that children with unpaid accounts have their lunches thrown out; they also have to be "branded" for all to see!
"I believe that as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
What is wrong with our societies if so many people no longer have the basic assurances of food, shelter, health care and education? Since when did we applaud corporate-backed politicians who react with disdain and disrepect to ordinary citizens facing extraordinarily difficult circumstances? When did our moral compass start to slip, with those with money and power - the "haves" - supposedly deemed more deserving of attention (and food) than those experiencing difficulties (the "have nots")?!
We can challenge these cruel inequities. We can donate funds or food, as well as our time and energy. We can get involved with local charities and food banks that are working to make a difference. Maybe we could even start a food bank in an under-served area, as several admirable people have done in England. To find out where help might be needed most, contact your local town hall or council or consult these sites and links:
In the United States:
In the UK:
In the Netherlands: