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.
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.
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!