“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me….” (Mt. 25:35)
“‘Feed the hungry’ (cf. Mt 25: 35, 37, 42) is an ethical imperative for the universal Church as she responds to the teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods. Moreover, the elimination of world hunger has also, in the global era, become a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (2009, no.27)
The title of this study guide — Food Security and Economic Justice — is really about poverty and hunger. Not only do we want to present the painful reality of how one-sixth of the world’s population lives — and dies — but how we can begin to create a world of economic justice and food for all. This faith-based study guide is meant to serve as a prophetic voice for a just and secure world. It is also an act of hope.
We take inspiration from the work of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, most impressively their pastoral letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. economy, Economic Justice for All (1986). Even after 25 years, this reflection still speaks to us. Notably, the Bishops selected economic concerns that still burden us today: employment, poverty, food and agriculture, and the United States relationship with developing nations. Then as now, the Bishops call us to understand, to decide and to act. We use this same approach in our study guide on food security for all.
This guide uses the three-part method of Catholic social justice: Observe, Discern, Act.
I. OBSERVE – Seeing, hearing, and experiencing the lived reality of individuals and communities. This begins with intentionally examining the primary data of the situation. What is happening to people and how do they respond? How are the rest of us responding? This moves us towards a social analysis: Obtaining a more complete picture of the social situation by exploring its historical and structural relationships. In this critical step, we attempt to make sense of the reality that we observe. Why are things this way? What are the root causes?
II. DISCERN – Analyzing the experience in the light of scripture and the Catholic social tradition. This means a theological reflection on biblical values and the principles of Catholic social teaching help us to see the reality of a situation in a different way. How do they serve as a measuring stick for this experience?
III. Act – Planning and carrying out actions aimed at transforming the social structures that contribute to suffering and injustice.
It is important to remember that this is a process. It is a cycle that is continually repeated. After attempting actions as suggested in the “Act” phase, participants should return to the “Observe” phase – which is to say observe new realities, then make new discernments and find new ways to act. This process is suitable for individuals, but is really intended for groups or individuals working collectively. The group process allows for a richer reflection, a deeper understanding, and a more creative search for effective action.
The bottom line is that more must be done to eradicate hunger and poverty in the world. And it must be done better than it has up to now. Whereas charity and food assistance confront the immediate needs of hunger, justice requires us to establish new foundations of food production and economic development. “More and better” is a call for nations, including the United States, to increase their amount of funds and resources for international assistance and to target that assistance to those who are closest to the poor and hungry of the world. By some estimates, there are 3 billion small-scale food producers worldwide — and they are the ones producing the food that feeds most of the world, because their food goes to their own impoverished communities.
Policies supporting small-scale producers and transferring better resources have a tremendous potential to help create sustainable communities endowed not only with adequate food, but also vibrant economies, human well-being and the possibility to plan for a long-term future.
“Who feeds the world? My answer is very different to that given by most people. It is women and small farmers working with biodiversity who are the primary food providers in the Third World.” — Vandana Shiva
Important Terms to Know
Food Security: The availability of food and an individual’s or family’s access to it. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).
Economic Justice: A distinctive concern for the poorest members of society. The Church teaches that through prayers and deeds one must show solidarity and compassion for the poor. The moral test of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation; public policy decisions must be evaluated in terms of how they affect the poor.
Chronic Hunger: Famine and hunger are rooted in food insecurity. Food insecurity can be categorized as either chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger; chronic hunger is not famine, but is related to poverty and is similar to undernourishment.
Malnutrition: The condition that results from an unbalanced diet in which certain nutrients are lacking or in the wrong proportions. The World Health Organization cites malnutrition as the gravest single threat to the world’s public health. Improving nutrition is widely regarded as the most effective form of aid.
Persistent Poverty: Not simply the lack of money or income, but the lack of basic human needs such as clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. (Relative poverty is the condition of having fewer resources or less income than others within a society or country.) Persistent poverty is long term and usually continues from one generation to the next.
Food Assistance: Within the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), historically and commonly known as the Food Stamp Program, is a federal-assistance program that provides assistance to low-income people and families.
Climate Change: A change of climate attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere. This change is in addition to natural climate variability and takes place over comparable time periods. Scientists warn that climate change will disrupt rain and temperature patterns, causing severe problems for agriculture and food production in many parts of the world.
Free Trade: A system of trade policy that allows companies and corporations to trade across national boundaries without interference from respective governments. According to the law of comparative advantage, partner nations benefit from mutual gains in the trade of goods and services of higher quality and/or lower cost. “Fair trade” is the counter position that government regulations must be in place to protect labor rights and environmental standards.
Supply Chain: An organized system of people, activities, information and resources that move a product from producer to consumer. For agricultural products and foods, the supply chain stretches from farm field to plate. A global supply chain brings food from around the world; a short supply chain moves food from local farmers or gardens to area households.
Land Grabbing: The buying or leasing of large pieces of land in developing countries by domestic and transnational companies. Although often supported and encouraged by central governments, this is a contentious issue because the land is mainly used for the production and export of food or biofuels.