Hunger: Myths &
Global Hunger | Hunger in the U.S.
Published on 21 October 2011
There isn’t enough food to feed the world, most of the
world's hungry live in Africa, and it's mostly a question of droughts and
other natural disasters. All of these statements are wrong. But they reflect
a common set of misconceptions on hunger. Here are 11 of the most common
myths - with the reality they mask.
Myth 1: There isn’t enough food to feed the world.
Reality: There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the
nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life. There is, however,
a need to be more efficient, sustainable, and fair in how we grow and
distribute food. This means a)
small-scale farmers and b) making sure that food 'safety nets' are in
place to protect the most vulnerable people from hunger.
Myth 2: Resolving hunger means ensuring people have enough to eat.
Reality: Hunger also
involves the type of food you eat. Good
having the right combination of nutrients and calories needed for healthy
development. It's especially important for infants, pregnant women and young
Myth 3: Droughts and other natural disasters are to blame for hunger.
Reality: Communities that build irrigation systems, storage facilities, and
roads to connect them to markets are able to improve harvests. Then people
can survive even during times of drought (Learn
more). Nature is only one factor when it comes to hunger. The proportion
of food crises that are linked to human causes has more than doubled since
1992. Conflict is often at the heart of today’s worst food crises.
Myth 4: Hunger exists when food is unavailable in shops and markets.
Reality: People can go hungry even when there's plenty of food around. Often
it's a question of access - they can’t afford food or they can’t get to
local markets. One way we can help is through
transfers and electronic vouchers, which give people the ability to buy
nutritious foods in local markets.
Myth 5: All of the world’s hungry live in Africa.
Reality: Of the world’s nearly one billion hungry, over half live in Asia
and the Pacific (Hunger
Stats). Hunger is also a relevant issue in the United States, where 50
million Americans are food insecure.
Myth 6: Too many people go hungry in my own country for me to worry about
Reality: One in seven people in the world are hungry, which means one in
seven people can’t create, study, or reach their full potential as human
beings. That affects all of us. Hunger slows progress on other important
areas that connect nations, including security.
Myth 7: Hunger and famine are not easy to predict and can't be prepared
Reality: Tools exist to monitor and predict trends in food production as
well as food prices. For example, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS
NET) analyzes meteorological and economic factors to alert the world to
the possibility of hunger hotspots and famine.
Myth 8: Hunger is basically a health issue.
Reality: This issue also affects education and the economy. Hungry children
struggle to focus, learn, or even attend school. Without education, it's
much harder for them to grow up and contribute to the growth of the national
economy. A study in Guatemala found that boys who received fortified food
before the age of three grew up to have wages 46 percent higher than those
in a control group.
Myth 9: People are only hungry during emergencies or disasters.
Reality: Emergencies only account for eight percent of the world’s hungry.
There are close to one billion hungry people in the world who do not make
the headlines and yet they go to bed hungry every night. This is why
long-term efforts like
programmes are so important.
Myth 10: There are more pressing global issues than hunger.
Reality: When populations are hungry, economies suffer, people fight, and
farmers can’t grow their crops effectively. We need to tackle hunger to be
able to resolve environmental, economic, and security issues.
Myth 11: There is nothing we can do to help hungry people.
Reality: There’s plenty we can do, even as individuals. Organizations like
WFP need constant support and awareness-building efforts at the community
level. You can help with that. Start where you are right now: online. Find
Twitter , and share our links to let your network know about the
importance of hunger. And find out other ways to get involved
(This article was produced by the World Food Programme in conjunction with
!2 Myths about Hunger
Summer 2006 Updated by Holly Poole-Kavana Why so much hunger? What can we do about it?
To answer these questions we must unlearn much of what we have been taught.
Only by freeing ourselves from the grip of widely held myths can we grasp
the roots of hunger and see what we can do to end it. Myth 1:
Not Enough Food to Go Around
Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply.
Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human
being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly
eaten foods - vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats,
and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food
per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts,
about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat,
milk and eggs - enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many
people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most "hungry
countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net
exporters of food and other agricultural products. Myth 2:
Nature is to Blame for Famine
Reality: It's too easy to blame nature. Human-made forces are making
people increasingly vulnerable to nature's vagaries. Food is always
available for those who can afford it - starvation during hard times hits
only the poorest. Millions live on the brink of disaster in South Asia,
Africa and elsewhere, because they are deprived of land by a powerful few,
trapped in the unremitting grip of debt, or miserably paid. Natural events
rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final push over the brink. Human
institutions and policies determine who eats and who starves during hard
times. Likewise, in America many homeless die from the cold every winter,
yet ultimate responsibility doesn't lie with the weather. The real culprits
are an economy that fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society
that places economic efficiency over compassion. Myth 3
Too Many People
Reality: Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining regions
of the Third World begin the demographic transition - when birth rates drop
in response to an earlier decline in death rates. Although rapid population
growth remains a serious concern in many countries, nowhere does population
density explain hunger. For every Bangladesh, a densely populated and hungry
country, we find a Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources
coexist with hunger. Or we find a country like the Netherlands, where very
little land per person has not prevented it from eliminating hunger and
becoming a net exporter of food. Rapid population growth is not the root
cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities
that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and
security. Rapid population growth and hunger are endemic to societies where
land ownership, jobs, education, health care, and old age security are
beyond the reach of most people. Those Third World societies with
dramatically successful early and rapid reductions of population growth
rates - China, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Cuba and the Indian state of Kerala -
prove that the lives of the poor, especially poor women, must improve
before they can choose to have fewer children. Myth 4:
The Environment vs. More Food?
Reality: We should be alarmed that an environmental crisis is
undercutting our food-production resources, but a trade-off between our
environment and the world's need for food is not inevitable. Efforts to feed
the hungry are not causing the environmental crisis. Large corporations are
mainly responsible for deforestation - creating and profiting from
developed-country consumer demand for tropical hardwoods and exotic or
out-of-season food items. Most pesticides used in the Third World are
applied to export crops, playing little role in feeding the hungry, while in
the U.S. they are used to give a blemish-free cosmetic appearance to
produce, with no improvement in nutritional value. Alternatives exist now and many more are possible. The success of organic
farmers in the U.S. gives a glimpse of the possibilities. Cuba's success in
overcoming a food crisis through self-reliance and sustainable, virtually
pesticide-free agriculture is another good example. Indeed, environmentally
sound agricultural alternatives can be more productive than environmentally
destructive ones. Myth 5:
The Green Revolution is the Answer
Reality: The production advances of the Green Revolution are no myth.
Thanks to the new seeds, millions of tons more grain a year are being
harvested. But focusing narrowly on increasing production cannot alleviate
hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of
economic power that determines who can buy the additional food. That's why
in several of the biggest Green Revolution successes - India, Mexico, and
the Philippines - grain production and in some cases, exports, have
climbed, while hunger has persisted and the long-term productive capacity of
the soil is degraded. Now we must fight the prospect of a ‘New Green
Revolution' based on biotechnology, which threatens to further accentuate
inequality. Myth 6:
We Need Large Farms
Reality: Large landowners who control most of the best land often leave
much of it idle. Unjust farming systems leave farmland in the hands of the
most inefficient producers. By contrast, small farmers typically achieve at
least four to five times greater output per acre, in part because they work
their land more intensively and use integrated, and often more sustainable,
production systems. Without secure tenure, the many millions of tenant
farmers in the Third World have little incentive to invest in land
improvements, to rotate crops, or to leave land fallow for the sake of
long-term soil fertility. Future food production is undermined. On the other
hand, redistribution of land can favor production. Comprehensive land reform
has markedly increased production in countries as diverse as Japan,
Zimbabwe, and Taiwan. A World Bank study of northeast Brazil estimates that
redistributing farmland into smaller holdings would raise output an
astonishing 80 percent. Myth 7:
The Free Market Can End Hunger
Reality: Unfortunately, such a "market-is-good, government-is-bad"
formula can never help address the causes of hunger. Such a dogmatic stance
misleads us that a society can opt for one or the other, when in fact every
economy on earth combines the market and government in allocating resources
and distributing goods. The market's marvelous efficiencies can only work to
eliminate hunger, however, when purchasing power is widely dispersed. So all those who believe in the usefulness of the market and the
necessity of ending hunger must concentrate on promoting not the market, but
the consumers! In this task, government has a vital role to play in
countering the tendency toward economic concentration, through genuine tax,
credit, and land reforms to disperse buying power toward the poor. Recent
trends toward privatization and de-regulation are most definitely not the
answer. Myth 8:
Free Trade is the Answer
Reality: The trade promotion formula has proven an abject failure at
alleviating hunger. In most Third World countries exports have boomed while
hunger has continued unabated or actually worsened. While soybean exports
boomed in Brazil - to feed Japanese and European livestock - hunger spread
from one-third to two-thirds of the population. Where the majority of people
have been made too poor to buy the food grown on their own country's soil,
those who control productive resources will, not surprisingly, orient their
production to more lucrative markets abroad. Export crop production squeezes
out basic food production. So-called free trade treaties like NAFTA and WTO
pit working people in different countries against each other in a ‘race to
the bottom,' where the basis of competition is who will work for less,
without adequate health coverage or minimum environmental standards. Mexico
and the U.S. are a case in point: since NAFTA we have had a net loss of over
a million jobs here in the U.S., while Mexico has lost 1.3 million in the
agricultural sector alone and hunger is on the rise in both countries. Myth 9:
Too Hungry to Fight for Their Rights
Reality: Bombarded with images of poor people as weak and hungry, we lose
sight of the obvious: for those with few resources, mere survival requires
tremendous effort. If the poor were truly passive, few of them could even
survive. Around the world, from the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico to the
Landless People's Movement in South Africa, wherever people are suffering
needlessly movements for change are underway. People will feed themselves,
if allowed to do so. It's not our job to ‘set things right' for others. Our
responsibility is to remove the obstacles in their paths, obstacles often
created by large corporations and U.S. government, World Bank and IMF
policies. Myth 10:
More U.S. Aid Will Help the Hungry
Reality: Most U.S. aid works directly against the hungry. Foreign aid can
only reinforce, not change, the status quo. Where governments answer only to
elites, our aid not only fails to reach hungry people, it shores up the very
forces working against them. Our aid is used to impose free trade and free
market policies, to promote exports at the expense of food production, and
to provide the arms that repressive governments use to stay in power. Even
emergency, or humanitarian aid, which makes up only eight percent of the
total, often ends up enriching American grain companies while failing to
reach the hungry, and it can dangerously undercut local food production in
the recipient country. It would be better to use our foreign aid budget for
unconditional debt relief, as it is the foreign debt burden that forces most
Third World countries to cut back on basic health, education and
anti-poverty programs. Myth 11:
We Benefit From Their Poverty
Reality: The biggest threat to the well-being of the vast majority of
Americans is not the advancement but the continued deprivation of the
hungry. Low wages - both abroad and in inner cities at home - may mean
cheaper bananas, shirts, computers and fast food for most Americans, but in
other ways we pay heavily for hunger and poverty. Enforced poverty in the
Third World jeopardizes U.S. jobs, wages and working conditions as
corporations seek cheaper labor abroad. In a global economy, what American
workers have achieved in employment, wage levels, and working conditions can
be protected only when working people in every country are freed from
economic desperation. Here at home, policies like welfare reform throw more people into the job
market than can be absorbed - at below minimum wage levels in the case of
‘workfare' - which puts downward pressure on the wages of those on higher
rungs of the employment ladder. The growing numbers of ‘working poor' are
those who have part- or full-time low wage jobs yet cannot afford adequate
nutrition or housing for their families. Educating ourselves about the
common interests most Americans share with the poor in the Third World and
at home allows us to be compassionate without sliding into pity. In working
to clear the way for the poor to free themselves from economic oppression,
we free ourselves as well. Myth 12:
Curtail Freedom to End Hunger?
Reality: There is no theoretical or practical reason why freedom, taken
to mean civil liberties, should be incompatible with ending hunger.
Surveying the globe, we see no correlation between hunger and civil
liberties. However, one narrow definition of freedom - the right to
unlimited accumulation of wealth-producing property and the right to use
that property however one sees fit - is in fundamental conflict with ending
hunger. By contrast, a definition of freedom more consistent with our
nation's dominant founding vision holds that economic security for all is
the guarantor of our liberty. Such an understanding of freedom is essential
to ending hunger.
Institute for Food and Development Policy Backgrounder
Summer 2006, Vol.12, No. 2
There is not enough food and not enough land.
Untrue. Measured globally, there is enough to feed everyone. For example there is enough
grain being produced today to provide everybody in the world with enough protein and about
3000 calories a day, which is what the average American consumes.
But the world's food supply is not evenly distributed. Those who have much accumulate
more, while those who have little edge toward starvation. In most countries with
widespread hunger, a few large landowners control nearly all agricultural production
sometimes with disastrous results. Much rich farmland remains unused, or one harvest is
gathered per year when there could be two or three. Land is used for "cash
crops" such as cotton or coffee instead of food. To the owners, land becomes an
"investment" not a source of food for the people who live on it.
There are too many people to feed.
Contrary to popular belief, overpopulation is not the cause of hunger. It's
usually the other way around: hunger is one of the real causes of overpopulation. The more
children a poor family has the more likely some will survive to work in the fields or in
the city to add to the family's small income and, later, to care for the parents in their
All this points to the disease that is at the root of both hunger and overpopulation: The
powerlessness of people who must rely on food that is grown and distributed by wealthy
people who have never felt hunger pangs, yet who determine how the land will be used, if
at all and who will benefit from its fruits. High birth rates are symptoms of the failures
of a social system - inadequate family income, inadequate nutrition and health care and
Growing more food will mean less hunger in poor countries.
But it doesn't seem to work that way. "More food" is what the last 30 years' War
on Hunger has been about. Farming methods have been "modernized", ambitious
irrigation plans carried out, "miracle" seeds, new pesticides, fertilizers and
machinery have become available. But who has come out better off?
Farmers who already have land. money and the ability to buy on credit - not the
desperately poor and hungry. In Pakistan for example a farmer must have at least 12.5
acres of land to get a loan from the Bank: but this excludes over 80 percent of Pakistan's
farmers! Who else benefits? Moneylenders, landlords, bureaucrats, military officers,
city-based speculators and foreign corporation - as the value or the land goes up only the
rich can afford to buy the farming land. Small farmers go bankrupt or are bought out.
Human energy and imagination can be organized to turn a desert into a grain
field. This can
be done - we have the know-how. When land is in the hands of the people who live and work on it , they are more likely to
be motivated to make the land more productive and distribution of food more equitable thus
benefiting all peoples.
Hunger is contest between rich countries and poor countries.
To many Americans the hungry world is seen as the enemy who in Lyndon Johnson's words,
"aint what we got". But hunger will never be eliminated until we recognize the
poor of Bangladesh, Colombia, Senegal as our neighbors. Rich or poor we are all part of
the same global food system which is gradually coming under the control of a few huge
corporations. These giant businesses grow and market food for the benefit of those people
who have money which means primarily people in North American and Europe.
Poor people in the Third World market pay food prices that are determined by what people
in rich countries are willing to pay. This is direct cause of hunger in many poor
countries. On the other hand, people in rich countries are unaware that their own
consumption is creating suction force in the world food market, diverting food from
meeting the needs of the very people who have grown it. In both rich and poor countries farmers, workers, consumers feel the impact of this system
of international control, through artificial shortages of certain products, through high
food prices, through poor-quality goods. Even in countries like the Unite States and
Canada, small farmers find themselves unable to afford the machinery that need to keep
their farms running well. Older people on small pensions even in the United States and
Canada, find themselves unable to afford the food they deserve.
Hunger can be solved by redistributing the food to the hungry.
Over and over we hear that North America is the world's last remaining "bread
basket." The rich world's over consumption and wastefulness are endlessly compared
with the misery of the poor.
|True. Adapting a simpler lifestyle helps us to understand our interrelatedness with all
people and less wastefulness is better stewardship. But neither" one less hamburger a
week". Nor massive food aid programs, will eventually solve widespread starvation and
poverty in the poorest nation. People will only cease to be poor when they control the
means of providing and /or producing food for themselves.
We must face up to the real questions: who controls the land? Who cultivates it ? A few.
Or all who need to? What will be grown in poorer nations - strawberries to export to the
tables of the well-fed in the United States or basic grains for local consumption? How can
control of the land get back into the hands of the people who need it? Who influences the
distribution of food? How can people be enabled to provide food for themselves?
A strong military defense provides a secure environment in which people can
The security of countries both great and small, depends first of all in a population that
has enough food, enough jobs, adequate energy and safe, comfortable housing. When a
society cannot provide these basics, all the guns and bombs in the world cannot maintain
But who feels secure on and empty stomach? The extraordinary investment the world makes in
armaments annually (currently $900 billion) ensures that few funds are available for
agricultural and economic development and shows that those who decide how a nation's money
is spent are not intimately acquainted with the violence of hunger.
This article is based on material by
Frances Moore Lappe' and Joseph Collins, co-authors of
Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, and World Hunger: Twelve Myths
Global Hunger Current estimates are that 700 million people in the world, more than the
entire population of the western hemisphere, do not get enough food for an active and
healthy life. World Military & Social Expenditures 1986 Each year 40 million people die from hunger and hunger-related
diseases. This figure is equivalent to more than 300 jumbo jet crashes a day with no
survivors, almost half of the passengers being children. GAIA : An Atlas of Planet Management Each year 15 million children under age 5 die - 1/4 of all the world's deaths. Up to half
of those who survive suffer malnutrition severe enough to leave them with non-reversible
damage. Understanding the Presbyterian Hunger Program We could save many of the world's children at an overall cost of $5
each through programs promoting immunization breast-feeding , rehydration therapy (which
counteracts diarrhoea) and improved child care generally. GAIA : An Atlas of Planet Management Poverty and Plenty. In the Northern Hemisphere malnutrition takes the form of over -
consumption of sugars, fats and animal products resulting in obesity, heart disease and
diabetes. In the US alone, at least 1/3 of those aged over 40 can be classified as obese.
In 1982, the UK spent 235 million on slimming aids - compared to just 50 million donated
to private aid agencies. GAIA: An Atlas of Planet Management One person in 5 in developing countries is undernourished; one in 5
in major industrialized countries is overweight or obese. World Military & Social Expenditures 1986 Each child born in the industrialized world will consume 20 to 40 times as much as a child
in the developing world in his or her lifetime. So small population increases in the rich
world, put 8 times as much pressure on world resources as larger population increases in
the poor world. Understanding the Presbyterian Hunger Program
Hunger in the U.S. In America more than one out of every five children
is poor. Almost 2 out of every 3 poor children are white. Nearly half of all black
children in America are poor. Nearly 2 out of every 5 Hispanic children are poor . More
that half of all children in female-headed families are poor. Children 's Defense Budget 1986 Hunger is a problem of epidemic proportions across the US. While no one knows the precise
number of hungry Americans, available evidence indicates that up to 20,000,000 citizens
may be hungry at least some period of time each month. 1/3 of the agencies in the US experienced an increase of 100% or
more in the number of hungry people coming for help between 1982-83 while a significant
portion of the agencies saw increases of over 200% in that one year alone. Some 71% of the soup kitchens and food pantries reported that
private charity cannot meet the need for food assistance in the local communities. Physician Task Force on Hunger in America Produced by the Office on Global Education, National Council of Churches, 2115 N. Charles
St., Baltimore, MD 21218-5755
A program of the Divisions of Education and Ministry, and Church World Service
Bread food the World, (revised 1984) Arthur Simon,
Paulist Press, New York
A Children's Defense Budget, 1986 children's Defense
Fund, 122 C Street NW, Washington DC 20001.
Food First, 1979 Frances Moore Lappe' and Joseph Collins,
Food First Institute for Food & Development Policy, 1885 Mission Street, San
Francisco, CA 94103.
Food for Beginners, 1982 Susan George % Nigel Paige,
Writers & Readers Publishing Cooperative Society Ltd., 144 Camden High Street, London
LWI ONE. England.
GAIA : An Atlas of Planet Management, 1984 Dr. Norman
Myers, editors Anchor Press/Doubleday & Company Inc., New York.
Hunger in America : The Growing Epidemic, 1985. Physician
Task Force on Hunger in America. Harvard University School of Public Health.
Understanding the Presbyterian Hunger Program,
Presbyterian Distribution Service, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 905, New York. New York
World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 1986 Frances Moore Lappe' and
Joseph Collins, Food First. Institute for Food & Development Policy, 1885 Mission
Street , San Francisco. CA 94103.
World Military & Social Expenditures, 1986 , Ruth
Leger Sivard, World Priorities. Inc,. Box 25140. Washington DC 20007.
updated: 23 April, 2014