Food: the scarcity myth
20th March, 2001
Today, while hunger stunts the lives of hundreds of millions of people, grassroots movements in Kenya and Brazil are winning the war on want. Frances Moore Lappé investigates
It’s the spring of 1975. I’m sitting in a rural conference centre somewhere in Iowa surrounded by earnest Lutherans concerned about ‘world hunger’. The last event of the evening is a film about the famine killing tens of thousands of Ethiopians. I see images of skeletal women holding babies that are trying in vain to suck milk from their mothers’ shrivelled breasts. The explanation is drought.
My hosts at this church gathering, like most US religious activists at the time, were calling for more US food aid to Africa. The tragedy they saw was scarcity over there. So, our duty was to ship our abundance abroad. Even by then I had learned that there is nothing natural about famine in today’s world; that ‘underdeveloped’ is not an adjective but a verb, as Walter Rodney explained in his 1974 book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
Fast forward to 2003. A buried New York Times story announces that 38 million people are at risk of starvation in Africa. The UN World Food Programme reports that demand for its aid is unprecedented. AIDS and government corruption are partly to blame, but the main culprit is drought.
After three decades the message...
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