“We live in a world where there is enough food for all,” declared Sara Lisherness, Director of Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Opening an April 5 conference sponsored by the PCUSA in conjunction with the inter-denominational Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Lisherness urged her audience to ask, “Why are people hungry?”
Answers to that question came from the podium throughout the daylong conference at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Blame fell principally on “corporations trying to take advantage of people,” in the words of one speaker. The assumption seemed to be that the natural state of humankind was subsistence farmers enjoying abundant fresh food, and that hunger entered the picture only when modern multinational corporations bought up land to mass-produce cash crops for shipment to suburban U.S. supermarkets. Several speakers at the “Food Justice” conference lamented the damages wrought by free trade agreements.
None of the speakers heard by this reporter reflected on the fact that scarce resources and the threat of hunger have been the norm through most of human history. Scarcity—and the need to choose among competing goods in allocating resources—remains the first lesson of economics. Scripture does indeed depict the abundance of the Garden as God’s original intention for humankind; however, then comes the Fall and the hardships that still afflict us:
…cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground…. (Genesis 3:17b-19a)
None of the speakers took note of the recent progress humankind has made in the struggle to feed itself. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that since 1990 the number of undernourished persons in the world has dropped, even as population has continued to rise. Over the last 20 years the percentage experiencing hunger has declined steadily, from 19 percent to 12 percent. Perhaps the question setting the agenda at the PCUSA conference should not have been “Why are people hungry?” but instead “Why do so many formerly hungry people now have enough food?”