One of the biggest questions facing our world today is “how can people still be hungry when there is so much food available?” The short answer: poverty and lack of resources. Though there is enough food in the world to feed everyone in it, many individuals either cannot afford food for their family or are unable to access it or grow it themselves.
The second of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture,” is a lofty one. More than 10 percent of the world population experiences hunger and food insecurity (according to the World Food Programme). That’s 690 million people around the world going to bed hungry, rationing out their food supply, and prioritizing bills over meals. Long-term, this has serious implications for physical and mental health, growth and development, and starvation. And the effects of hunger go much deeper than the individual, as it can impact the economy, education, and social development.
So what can we do?
- Help those most vulnerable now: Reduce your own food waste, volunteer at or donate to a food bank, and give to local efforts making a positive impact.
- Propose policy changes: Become an advocate to learn more and support bills and changes that can help end hunger in the U.S. See some examples, such as the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act on the Feeding America site.
- Support sustainable agriculture and markets: Innovative food systems can improve nutrition and solve hunger for generations to come.
It may be easier to imagine hunger only existing in third-world countries and undeveloped areas, but the truth is, many are struggling in our region. In the United States, more than 35 million people are facing hunger, including more than 10 million children (according to Feeding America). Drilling down even further, hunger affects 1 in 9 individuals in Pennsylvania.
Though it looks like the world is unfortunately not on track to eradicate hunger by 2030, there is hope in our own community. Many organizations in Pittsburgh are taking steps to address hunger now and solve it for the future. Hear from two local nonprofits, Pittsburgh Policy Food Council and Just Harvest, about how food insecurity has impacted the region, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pittsburgh Policy Food Council
During the early months of the pandemic last year, the Pittsburgh region made national news for lines, hundreds of cars long, outside the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. At the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC), staff and member organizations jumped into action to address the sudden loss of school meals for some students; to advocate for the continued operation of farmers markets so that seniors, low-income residents, and families using WIC could continue to purchase healthy food; to advocate for the safe opening of community gardens to grow needed fresh food; and to navigate a barrage of charitable food distribution programs. These hunger-related issues were not new, but were certainly magnified by the pandemic.
At the PFPC, we know that a safety net will always be necessary, but we believe in policy solutions that can create a strong foundation for everyone to be able to reliably access healthy, affordable food. After two years of planning, community coordination, and discussion, Council staff and members finalized our region’s first comprehensive food plan called the Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan. The plan lays out key strategies that will move us closer to a just, equitable, and sustainable food system, one in which anti-hunger policies and programs are funded and prioritized. With this Plan as a guide, the PFPC continues to connect member projects and efforts, advocate for effective food policies, and catalyze community members to action.
Back in 2019, before anyone knew that the novel coronavirus existed, nearly 1 in 8 Americans were relying on federal aid — SNAP benefits (or “food stamps”) — to keep food on the table. Large swaths of our community, primarily people of color, faced enormous barriers getting to a store where they could shop for healthy fresh food.
People were struggling daily with low-wage jobs, skyrocketing rents, inadequate mass transit, and poor access to healthcare. Unfortunately, this was met by PA State Legislature leaders blocking consideration of a bill to restore emergency relief to indigent Pennsylvanians and the Trump Administration’s move to rapidly cut food stamps for millions of Americans.
As we look toward what the future might be now, let’s remember that our goal should not be a return to the past. The pandemic crisis gives us a rare chance to reflect not merely on what we have lost, but on what we as a society — and what every individual — deserves.
We should have full employment and living wages and an end to widespread hunger. We should have dignity for all people regardless of the circumstances of their birth. And we should have a democracy that values everyone’s vote and everyone’s voice.
This is the vision Just Harvest aims to achieve.
The year of the pandemic has been a year of unprecedented hardship in our community. As each day passed, we saw more of a need for our services and a rising call to change the public policies that fail to put people first. Our mission had never been more relevant to connect people to vital public benefits. Every day, our food-stamp hotline was flooded by calls. In 2020, we helped twice the number of households apply for benefits than in 2019 — the most people we’ve helped in the program’s history. Years of working with allies to defend SNAP and other key nutrition programs from cuts and restrictions turned into assertive calls to improve these programs at the federal and state level. This resulted in Congress and the Biden administration expanding access and increasing benefits during the pandemic, gains that we hope to parlay into permanent wins.
There is hope to be found amidst the darkness of the pandemic. All of us have been asked to make sacrifices during this time, some far more than others. Perhaps we will remember that the value of our actions lies not only in protecting ourselves and nearest loved ones, but in protecting the neighbors and strangers we encounter every day and with whom we share this Commonwealth.
Perhaps we will strive together for the brighter future we all deserve.