The Food Bank Fix

In Josh Lohnes’ PhD innovative and sophisticated dissertation (WVU Dept of Geography), he examines the power relations between food banks, food pantries, Feeding America, and Big Food. He shows how food pantries in such an under-resourced and rural state as West Virginia are caught between their local context and rules that favor the  needs of corporate America and the institutional demands of Feeding America.  Ending hunger always plays second fiddle to the government, and institutional rules.

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 He develops the concept of the food bank fix, adapted from the scholar David Harvey’s idea of a spatial fix to capitalism, to explain how the charitable food system plays an essential element in protecting the inherently wasteful food system through revaluing and distributing their surplus. This system is a food destruction network, whose raison d’etre is to protect capitalism from the ravages of its own excess.

Lohnes argues:  “Although food banks are charged with resolving the problem of hunger, I argue that they are also key sites for revaluing food waste and resolving crises of overproduction under capitalism.”

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 Lohnes points out how Feeding America’s use of meals (1.2 pounds = 1 meal no matter the type of food) rather than pounds is little more than a cynical repackaging of  food waste. He shows how their core metric of meals per person in need (MPIN) drives food banks to distribute an ever increasing amount of food from year to year, as it positions next year’s metrics based on this year’s median of the 200 food banks in the network. Over the course of the past decade, the MPIN has risen by 50%, forcing food banks to grow the amount of food they distribute accordingly in order to stay in the good graces of Feeding America. Those food banks who dont push enough food out the door to all their service area can have the territory taken away from them or their contact with Feeding America revoked. These perverse incentives lead to food banks prioritizing those agencies who have the greatest capacity to move food or to establish mobile pantries in “underserved areas,” with no wrap around services to help the recipients actually get out of poverty.






Industry Lobbying on SNAP in the 2017-2018 Farm Bill

Excerpted from the Identity Crisis of America’s Largest Anti-Hunger Program

In the 2018 Farm Bill, banks, refrigeration equipment manufacturers and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce join food retailers, beverage companies, and manufacturers as key stakeholders in the SNAP program. These players have evolved into much more important participants in the food stamp program than farm groups, as evidenced by the amount of money they spend on lobbying. These groups are lobbying to ensure that they receive a continued share of the enormous SNAP pie estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be about $640 billion from 2019-2029. Following is a categorization of the amount of money industry and public sector players spent lobbying for SNAP in the last farm bill.  

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Click here for a detailed spreadsheet of these lobbying expenditures.

 The support of the agriculture and food industries has fundamentally shaped the evolution of the food stamp program. The United States remains the only major nation with a program that supports the poor not through cash, but through transfers linked to its own agri-food industry. Because food stamps have been essentially a form of aid tied to industry, the program’s structure has been downstream to the nature of the marketplace. Congress has adopted a laissez-faire approach to SNAP recipients’ food choices. With the exception of minimal restrictions around hot foods, the government has allowed the purchases of the food stamp program to shift with broader societal trends. For example, if we as a society consume more processed foods and drink more sugary beverages than we did 20 years ago, then changes in the purchases made with SNAP benefits have simply reflected those trends.

‘Feeding the Other’ Examines Race, Privilege, and Stigma Perpetuated by Food Pantries

In her new book, Rebecca de Souza looks at the harmful culture of charitable food pantries that prioritize hard work and economic value over food justice and equity.


  As anyone who has spent time in food pantries will tell you, they can be places of caring—and places of great racial tension and indignity. University of Minnesota-Duluth communication professor Rebecca de Souza spent two years volunteering at two very different food pantries in Duluth. In her just-released book, Feeding the Other: Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries, de Souza foregrounds the seldom-heard voices, experiences, and realities of people living with hunger. She documents how the culture of suspicion in food pantries produces a stigmatizing experience for their patrons. Feeding the Other shows how a well-intentioned system run by people of good intentions has become a perpetual poverty machine, generating the conditions for its continued existence rather than its own elimination, as should be the case.

As a woman of color and a middle-class Indian immigrant, de Souza uses her insider/outsider perspective to assess in new ways the interplay between the whiteness of the volunteers, Calvinist beliefs about the moral failings of the poor, and poor people’s internalization of the messages society tells them about themselves. Despite the structural racism embedded in the food pantry experience, de Souza believes that if food pantries cultivated the leadership of those experiencing hunger and paid greater attention to their needs rather than those of the donors or volunteers, food pantries could become agents of food justice.

I spoke with de Souza to discuss the intersections between race, food justice, stigma, and neoliberalism as experienced in the charitable food system.

What do you mean by the “Other,” as in the title of your book? Who is the Other?

In the United States, poor people and people of color- particularly those who seek out public assistance- have been made the Other. They are viewed as suspicious because they are poor or look poor, have darker skin tones, and use welfare. In the book I write about how Other is not a natural category, but rather created through social and political discourses- the result of decades of negative political propaganda. Take for instance the stereotype of the Black Welfare Queen (BWQ).  This stereotype can be traced to speeches made by President Reagan during his campaign rallies in 1976. He told stories about women who were defrauding the welfare system and living it up. In one speech, he talked about the “Cadillac-driving Chicago welfare queen,” who was a con artist, lazy, and Black, who had “80 names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards” and was collecting veterans’ benefits on four non-existent deceased husbands. While the BWQ stereotype is not linked to hunger and food pantries per se, this idea of people of color and poor people “abusing the system” can be found in food pantries even today.

What is neoliberalism and how does it produce stigma?

Neoliberalism is a political theory and practice, sometimes called “capitalism with the gloves off”. Neoliberalism glorifies a particular kind of work- work that produces value and wealth in the marketplace. Wealth is a proxy for personal responsibility and accountability, while poverty provokes suspicion. Good citizens are those who work hard, have a can-do attitude, contribute to the GDP, and engage in healthy behaviors. “Bad citizens” are those who do not work hard, are lazy, irresponsible, have “bad attitudes,” and burden the health care system. Neoliberal stigma provides a convenient explanation for poverty and racial inequity, where the individual is to blame. This dynamic plays out in food pantries between middle class volunteers and food insecure clients. This dynamic is also found among food pantry clients themselves who see each other as suspicious and are constantly trying to differentiate themselves from “those who abuse the system”. This stigma erodes community and the possibility for social action and social justice.

Feeding the Other centers on the tales of two food pantries in Duluth and how they foster stigma among their clients. Tell us about them and how they work.

It is important to first situate food pantries in the context of the larger food system. Hunger and food insecurity affect a gigantic number of people in the US- approximately 40 million. The government manages hunger and hungry people in two ways- through government food assistance programs like SNAP, WIC, and NSLP- and through charitable food assistance programs like food shelves and soup kitchens. The government provides surplus commodity foods to food shelves, has laws and policies that protect food donors from liability, and gives tax credits to corporate food donors. The government depends on food shelves to manage the national hunger problem- and without these food shelves there would be breadlines and social unrest. So while my book critiques food pantries and the dynamics within them, food pantries are very much part of a neoliberal political project that displaces government responsibility with charitable solutions. Charity is of course a terrible solution because it does not solve the problem and furthermore, it reinforces stigma and social distance.

Chum is your traditional food pantry. Because they get food from the government, clients have to meet income eligibility criteria and are restricted on how often they can come back. The atmosphere is bureaucratic -there is paperwork to be filled out and clients participate in intake interviews to confirm eligibility. The place is run-down and uninviting. Chum tends to be a more politically liberal organization and uses a social justice language to talk about its work. A social justice sensibility is interested in equity and redistributive justice; it identifies with others from a position of solidarity and calls for structural/ policy changes to redress longstanding inequities.

Stigma is reinforced here because Chum does little to disrupt historical narratives of fraud and abuse that circulate in food pantries. Similar to other traditional food pantries, clients experience scrutiny and surveillance- for example, a volunteer is always required to accompany clients as they pick out their food so as to ensure that they are not taking more than what is allowed. Volunteers also fall prey to stigmatizing judgments about who is at the food shelf and why. Because of Chum’s mixed accountabilities to funders, donors, and stakeholders, it is also not explicit enough about food injustice. I argue that Chum, like many food pantries across the US, needs to shift the narrative of hunger. Food pantries need to make clear that hunger is an injustice linked to historical inequities of race, class, and gender. They should tell clients that it is not their fault that they are poor. They should also directly address the myth of “fraud and abuse” pervasive in food assistance settings.

Ruby’s Pantry (RP) is a more entrepreneurial food pantry. It charges $20 for a big box of food valued at $100, and there are no income eligibility criteria. The food pantry “pops up” once a month. Clients wait in long lines, but there is a fun and festive atmosphere. RP is rooted in evangelical conservative leanings. RP takes great pride in the fact that it does not receive government funding and is not affiliated with Feeding America, but rather procures its own surplus food directly from corporations.

RP reinforces neoliberal stigma because it sharpens the link between citizenship and economic value. For RP, if you pay $20, then you are no longer one of those people, thought of as people on welfare or welfare scam artists. This is made clear in its tagline “RP is a hand up, not a hand out”- a popular expression of neoconservative ideology. RP strategically brands and markets itself in this way. In my interviews with staff, volunteers, and clients, I found they were well aware of this tagline, it had traction with them, and they used it frequently to talk about the benefits of using RP compared to other food assistance programs. The twenty dollars helps RP distinguish itself from other forms of public assistance, where people supposedly get something for nothing. At RP, $20 is the price of dignity- and clients certainly feel less stigma because they are paying $20. RP however reinforces neoliberal stigma because it makes this false distinction between people who get hand ups and those that get handouts. My argument of course is that there is no difference between these two groups- this is a social and political construction. In fact, many of the RP clients were also on some form of government assistance and getting so called handouts. Charging $20 for industrial surplus food is also an inadequate and short term solution to the problem of hunger and food insecurity.

There’s a character in the book, Lisa. She’s a white, middle-class woman who volunteers with her kids at Chum food pantry. She seems to be emblematic of whiteness in the book. What’s her story?

 One of the most challenging aspects about writing this book, is that I- a person of color- am (a) making whiteness visible, and (b) critiquing white people who think they are doing good in the world. In one sense, food pantries are doing good, but they are inadequate solutions to the large scale problem of hunger linked to structural and racial injustices. In the book, I draw a link between charity and whiteness. Whiteness does not refer to all white people, but rather white people who occupy a particular privileged standpoint in the world. These are folks who live in the “good neighborhoods”, but who venture into the poor neighborhoods once a month to dole out food. Lisa is emblematic of whiteness. She is strong, works hard, [and is] understanding, articulate, rational, and logical. She is your typical self-identified white liberal woman, but more conservative than she knows. For instance, Lisa embodies the principle of “compassionate conservatism,” – she gives her time to serve hungry people, but also wants to make sure that people are not taking advantage of the food shelf. Like other whites around her, Lisa tells herself that food pantries are doing good in the world. These spaces provide an opportunity for her and her daughter to interact with the Other. They help her fulfill religious, ethical, and moral goals, but do little for food justice.

A big concern that I have about this group of people who volunteer at food pantries is that the end result is children who say, “I am so grateful for what I have” and worse still, “I am so lucky to be born white.” If the charitable industrial complex somehow resulted in people conversant in thoughts, ideas, and visions for a new food system well, that would be something—but it is not doing that. In the book, I recommend that food pantries play a revitalized role in producing new narratives that disrupt the stigma circulating around people who are poor and hungry; this means interrogating whiteness, privilege, and charity as the solution to hunger.


 If, as you say, charity as we currently perform it “produces and reproduces the subordination of particular groups of people”, how do we realign our desire to help so that it is not patronizing or stigmatizing?

 As middle class, elite, white, and privileged folks, we have to “help” in a different way. We have to help by standing in solidarity with people of color in their movements. We have to amplify and elevate the voices of the poor - pass the mic already! We have to help by enacting decisions that serve the interests of low income folks, not corporations, boards of directors, or the elites in the room. When we are in meetings, we need to leverage our privilege to speak out against neoliberal forces that would have us believe that hunger is the problem of the hungry. This is true of executive directors of multinational corporations, but also of old ladies who hand out food in church basements. We have to press for social policies that alleviate poverty including a living wage, affirmative action, and residential desegregation. We have to push back against policies that demand even more control, discipline, and policing of the poor and people of color. We have to say no to policies that put welfare and criminality in the same frame.

 You write that food pantry clients seemed to have a deep knowledge and affinity for healthy foods but couldn’t always afford them. Yet they also really appreciated receiving brand-name products, which seemed to help them feel part of mainstream America.

 There’s this really disturbing trend in the public health world that wants to “teach” poor people how to cook and “educate” them on what good food is and what bad food is. I found that my participants knew all about fresh, local, organic, and whole foods, although these foods were out of their economic reach. African American clients talked about how their families used to grow good food for white owners and now they have to pay exorbitant prices for such food and are left holding cans of bad industrial food. Many clients were willing to grow their own organic food to avoid paying high prices but did not have the land to do so. They talked about the importance of nutrition and the food-mind-body connection. Some had taken to buying vitamins, because that was a cheaper way to get their nutrition than purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. They knew how to cook up some amazing recipes like “tomato bisque soup” and “messed up eggs”. And yes, they also enjoyed getting branded food items like Coke Zeros, because these were products they could not ordinarily afford themselves. In the end, people experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance because they knew what they should be eating in theory, but could not afford to do so in practice. They suffered great anxiety about what all this bad food was doing to their bodies.

 You put forth a vision of food pantries as a place not just for community building but also a space for developing racial equity. How do we move forward with implementing this vision?

Food insecurity is almost three times higher among African American and Hispanic households compared to white households. Race is not peripheral to food insecurity; it is central.

 Food pantries need to tell new stories about hunger and solutions to hunger. Food pantries that recognize and are reflexive about their place in the food system and understand how they reinforce racial and class based hierarchies are already doing something transformative. Transformation happens when food pantries account for the trauma, the pain, the abuse, the grief, and the aspirations that people carry with them; when they are able to be explicit in expressing and articulating racial injustices- historical and contemporary; when they recognize, how hectic, stressful, and anxiety-ridden poverty is and make a “preferential option” to side with the poor in their struggles; when they are explicit in letting people know that it is not their fault and recognize the value, the history, the richness of who is in front of them; when they invite people who have experienced hunger to serve on their boards; when they engage volunteers and clients in political processes to advocate for the hungry and food insecure; when they allow people to interact with each other and bring people together not as volunteers and recipients, but as people who must all learn something about power. In fact, food pantries that find ways to get rid of their volunteer programs and offer up paid positions to community members do this work- – that would be a step in the right direction. This would involve training and leadership development and providing other inputs to support their work.

Food pantries can move forward in racial equity work by partnering with local groups  already working on racial issues such as the NAACP, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and other similar groups. Faculty and staff engaged in equity work at local universities can also be useful allies. Pastors and ministers of local churches have a huge role to play in shifting the charitable mindset and interrogating whiteness. Can you imagine if all the white churches affiliated with food pantries started to have real and meaningful conversations about racial equity and food justice?


This interview has been edited for length and brevity.


Food Bank Nations

Graham Riches’ “Food Bank Nations: Poverty, Corporate Charity, and the Right” to Food (Routledge, 2018) is the climax of a career researching, writing, and advocating for the right to food, and explaining how food banks undermine that cause. Food Bank Nations looks at the spread of corporate charity through the OECD countries. Riches sees food banks as being at the moral vacuum at the heart of neoliberalism.


The book discusses the role of the Global Foodbanking Network, centered in Chicago and led by former Feeding America staff, has expanded to all 35 OECD countries. This expansion has undermined the right to food in these countries as “indifferent governments deny the [hunger] problem and look the other way, leaving the task of feeding the poor to the redistribution of wasted and surplus food.”

Riches traces the evolution of food banks from its 1967 Phoenix roots through the evolution of Second Harvest, Feeding America, and into international networks such as the European Federation of Foodbanks. He explores the hunger industrial complex in its international context, through the role of the Houston –based Foodbanking Leadership Institute in partnering with multinational companies to extend and expand the capacity of food banks in the international context.

Riches asks invaluable questions about this corporate capture of the right to food: “Who stands to benefit and why from Big Food’s take over of food charity from public welfare?”

Food Bank Nations stands true to Riches’ long-standing belief that it is the role of national governments to ensure the right to food, as enshrined in UN declarations and covenants. He points out the critical role that social movements and coalitions, such as Nourish Scotland and Food Secure Canada have in holding governments’ feet to the fire to ensure that those rights are justiciable.

Food Bank Nations might be a bit on the dense side for non-academics, but I found it highly readable and informative.

What Do Racist Pork and Tariff Man Have in Common?


Should food banks ever turn down food, if it is safe and healthy? Do food banks have an obligation to consider the political implications of accepting food? Or is it their role to accept as much food as possible, within the context of the degree of need in their communities? Should medium and long-term political goals ever outweigh the urgency of short-term feeding needs?

American food banks tend to define themselves as businesses, highly efficient in nature. Feeding America encourages and awards food banks based on their efficiency ratios and the pounds per person in poverty that they distribute. Like any enterprise, they typically seek to do business with as many partners as possible that will help them meet their bottom line (pounds of food distributed).

However, if food banks saw themselves as social change agents, then those partnerships might take on a whole different political context.

 Lets take a look at a couple of these questionable food sources to further explore this issue.



As the nation’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods donates its excess production to a rotating array of food banks, through its Helping Hungry Homes program. Last month, Smithfield made a donation of 42,000 pounds of meat to the Mid South Food Bank in Memphis TN, whose CEO commented, “Smithfield returns to us again this year as an active partner in the fight against hunger.” 

 While Smithfield may be an active partner in the fight against hunger in Memphis, a few hundred miles away in the neighboring state of NC, the company is reviled for the deleterious impacts of its hog waste lagoons on the health of residents adjacent to their hog factory farms.  The company has recently lost three lawsuits by affected residents for its egregious practices. Smithfield’s hog operations were found to disproportionately affect people of color because their lack of political power impedes their ability to challenge these facilities. Senator Cory Booker of NJ commented, “This corporation is outsourcing its pain, its costs, on to poor black people in North Carolina.”

Plain and simple, Smithfield is engaging in environmental racism.  

To recap this situation, food banks are providing reputational cover for Smithfield, allowing it to dispose of its excess production in a way that builds its image as a socially responsible corporation. These food banks then distribute this pork that was produced to the detriment of the health of historically marginalized communities to other marginalized and under-resourced communities.

This situation raises some very serious ethical considerations for food banks. Are they distributing ethically tainted food? With an active campaign against Smithfield to change its practices, should they not foster solidarity between their clients and the affected communities in NC?   Are food banks complicit with environmental racism? It seems that any food bank committed to examining its own practices with an equity lens needs to be considering these kinds of ironies.  

“Tariffs are the greatest”


With the imposition of tariffs by the Trump Administration, many farmers are finding that their sales of agricultural products have slowed as other countries retaliate by not buying or imposing tariffs on them.  As a result, USDA is purchasing $1.2 billion of fruit, nuts, and dairy products to distribute to food banks. These mitigation bonus commodities will quadruple the amount of bonus commodities distributed by USDA in 2017.

 Parenthetically, I have grave doubts about whether TEFAP should even exist. It’s a deep contradiction in terms, establishing a role for the federal government in a system that was created because the government has been abdicating its role in protecting and fulfilling the right to food.

 This dramatic expansion of TEFAP is not without its costs for the emergency food sector. It costs money to move food from producer to consumer, which is why Feeding America has solicited USDA to provide it with cash to cover these costs.  In the absence of these funds, food banks are diverting resources from their more discretionary programs to cover these costs. In one western food bank, leadership has redirected the budgets of social justice programs to focus on what it perceives to be its core mission of food distribution.

The excitement expressed by food banks to take on this flood of Trump tariff foods leads one to wonder whether food banks do not share in the President’s comments of July 24th, “Tariffs are the greatest.” If you measure your success by the weight of the food you distribute, then the Trump Administration has been a core partner of the food banking industry.

 But what is the cost of this ad hoc partnership? We have an administration whose positions are antithetical to the interests of ending hunger, yet which manufactures a crisis through its tariffs, and then purports to resolve it by buying food from affected farmers. The mitigation bonus food is little more than a political football. Does accepting it mean one buys into the administration’s positions? Do food banks enable the administration to pander to a core political constituency? In food banks’ belief that their role is just to accept and distribute as much food as possible, don’t they once more strengthen not just neoliberalism, but also the political hand of a highly regressive administration.

Perhaps I am assuming too much about the intentions of the food banking community, regardless of its political diversity. Perhaps its root interests do indeed lie in the cynical perpetuation of the hunger problem, so that they can continue to exist and grow. Perhaps Tariff Man and his mitigation bonus commodities sit at the heart of the hunger industrial complex. Repudiating his policies and his food are core elements of an exit strategy. I am still waiting for a food bank, even in a blue state, to take on this cause wholeheartedly.   


Finding the Off-Ramp to Charity


America needs an exit strategy.

 We’ve been hearing a lot about America finding the way out of global multilateralism—out of the Paris climate accords, NAFTA, Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

 That’s certainly not the kind of exit strategy we need, nor the kind that I am talking about.

 We need to find a way out of the burgeoning charity-based approach to hunger, i.e. food banking. Feeding America’s goals for food distribution per person in poverty grew from 34 lbs in 2009 to 53 lbs in 2018, according to Josh Lohnes of the West Virginia University Food Justice Lab (whose dissertation on the integration of food banks into the food system will be out shortly) .

 This is the unfortunate reality of food banks: that they are tied to a growth agenda.

 Last month, I had the honor of attending a meeting with the leaders of the top British anti-hunger charities. There was unanimous opposition among the attendees to institutionalizing food banks, which have been in place only for the past eight to ten years.

 Amazingly, the Trussell Trust is in the vanguard of this anti-institutionalization sentiment. A Christian organization, Trussell Trust is responsible for the vast majority of food banks in the UK. It franchises local organizations to manage some 1,200 food banks (food pantries in the US). Just a few short years ago, its former executive director commented that every British community should have a foodbank. Yet, its new executive director Emma Revie has hired a long-time anti-poverty activist from the faith community, Matthew Van Duyvenbode as their chief strategist to develop an exit strategy from food banking


 Many British food poverty activists remain skeptical about whether Trussell will be able to manage this exit, whether it will be able to let go of- or transform its vast network of charities. Complicating this issue is a £20 million grant awarded to Trussell and FareShare, a non-profit food waste distributor, by none other than Walmart (known locally as ASDA).

 Trussell Trust is operating in an increasingly hostile context to food banks, in which Conservative Party members of Parliament are getting called out on social media for holding photo opportunities at food banks, which their very policies led into existence.  And the Scottish government is committed to ending food banking on Scottish soil by funding innovation in community building and providing cash assistance to the impoverished.

 Here in the States, we desperately need an exit strategy from food banking. Not to mention a need for a change in the story, so food banks are seen both as a wellspring of community care AND a product of austerity politics that needs to be reversed. 


 The idea of an exit strategy is not so pie in the sky as some might think. How many times have you said – or heard a food banker say: “I wish I didn’t have to be doing this job.” Or “I am trying to work myself out of business.” The next time you hear someone say so, gently ask them, “What’s your exit strategy?” It will get across the message that if we ever want to bring down our national dependence on charity we need to develop a strategic plan for doing so.

 So, Feeding America: if Trussell Trust can develop an exit strategy for food banking in the UK, even in the face of an impending financial disaster from Brexit, what is America’s?







A Holiday Toast!


 With the end of 2018, I’m declaring the end of the Big Hunger publicity campaign. In the past 20 months, the campaign has taken me to 21 states, Washington DC, two Canadian provinces, Morocco and the UK. I have done 105 talks, 24 radio interviews, 2 TV shows, 8 webinars and podcasts, and written or interviewed for 20 articles.

The book is going into its fourth printing soon.

It feels like enough. While the book wasn’t picked up on by national media (except by the BBC), it never was intended to be a bestseller. Big Hunger and the campaign surrounding it accomplished what they were supposed to: stimulate a discussion about the way we address hunger, about the corporate influence on the anti-hunger movement.

I need a break from book talks. I’m toast.


As I reflect back on the past year and a half, I wanted to convey the lessons that I have learned about the state of the anti-hunger field.

 First, it’s important to qualify that the anti-hunger sector has hardly been monolithic in its response.

 The Good

It’s been a great pleasure to see how various food banks, such as Alameda County, Foodlink, Oregon Food Bank, the Community Food Bank of Southern AZ, Philabundance, and Food Bank of the Southern Tier (NY), are actively searching for the exits to the system in which they’re trapped. Their willingness to engage in a meaningful conversation about the contradictions of this process is inspiring.  I have seen many positive signs of change and openness in the past year and a half.

·      Closing the Hunger Gap, led by WhyHunger has taken shape as a membership organization, led by organizations on the frontlines of anti-hunger work. Their efforts around changing the hunger narrative hold much promise.

·      The national anti-hunger policy conference led by FRAC and Feeding America has evolved to contain very important discussions about hunger and racial equity. They are providing more people with lived experience of hunger scholarships to attend the event.

·      The Trump Administration’s proposal to count participation in SNAP and other social assistance programs as a factor in determining permanent residency has led more anti-hunger groups into the immigration debate. In doing so, they have stepped outside of their nutrition safety zone and into a political realm, which many of them had never ventured.

·      Share Our Strength gave a copy of Big Hunger to all of their Cooking Matters interns. Feeding America invited key leaders of the food bank resistance to present in a widely acclaimed panel at their annual executive director conference.

·      Across the pond, Trussell Trust, the Christian organization that franchises the vast majority of the UK’s food banks, has hired a staffer to develop within a year a plan to close down their 1000+ food banks. I like to think that Big Hunger’s warnings about the dangers of food bank institutionalization scared them into action.

 The Bad

While the food banking field has been taking some small but important steps toward a broader dialogue, the hunger industrial complex thrives. For example,

 ·      Feeding America’s new CEO, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, was the former Global Treasurer of Walmart, Inc. She was the “bean counter of the ill-gotten gains of the company that destroyed rural America,“ in the words of former LA Kitchen executive director Robert Egger. One can only assume that this connection will strengthen the bonds between Walmart and Feeding America, as they pursue their mutual aims of perpetuating the hunger-industrial complex.

·      Along the same lines, Feeding America has refused to take a position on the minimum wage, but instead has committed to studying the solutions to poverty for three years before it decides on a course of action.

·      The soda industry is closing ranks with USDA, as lobbyists court insiders to reject any soda exclusion waivers from the SNAP program.

·      USDA is purchasing some $1.2 billion worth of food from farmers to offset the impacts of Trump’s tariffs on farmers. Their destination: food banks.


 And The Ugly

I have run into many more food banks- as well as the majority of national anti-hunger organizations- that have hid their heads in the sand, fearful of engaging in a dialogue that might legitimize any criticism of their practices. So, they fail to decline invitations to participate as a speaker, send an underling to take notes, or just don’t bother to show up.

 What’s up Next?

Within a few months I hope to announce the launch of a new organization that will seek to implement my vision for the anti-hunger field. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I will be sending out this newsletter on a periodic basis.  Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2019!