More Than Just The Corners of Our Fields

As a fellow Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, Raechel Banks, wrote yesterday, “There are many ways to ‘share our bread with the hungry’ (Isaiah 58:7).” She discussed a very tangible  way of helping to combat hunger in our midst (I still have blisters on my fingers from cutting potatoes for 3 hours straight). Today, however, I want to talk about a way of sharing with the hungry that is more difficult to conceptualize, but has no less of an impact on millions of lives – international food aid.

There are nearly one billion people around the world with insufficient access to food. That number is greater than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union combined. One in seven people go to bed hungry each night and hunger is the leading cause of severe health problems and death worldwide.

The United States engages in a number of different programs to help combat hunger worldwide but the largest is the Food For Peace program. The program, with an annual budget of approximately $2.2 billion, sends food around the world to regions plagued by malnutrition, famine, natural disasters and political unrest.

Chapter 19 of Leviticus teaches us, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corner of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest… you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” Today, we largely understand this as an abstract commandment to give to the needy and feed the poor. Unfortunately, the United States government has traditionally taken the notion of Pe’ah a little too literally.

The United States is one of the only donors of international food aid that insists on giving most of its aid in the form of food commodities grown within the United States – the U.S. actually ships the corners of our fields around the world for the hungry. Many have argued that this form of giving can have devastating effects on local economies and communities. American Jewish World Service recently released a statement discussing their experience with this problem, “we work extensively in Haiti, which has received significant amounts of U.S. food aid over the past several years. This aid has undercut local farmers by flooding the market with rice and other crops from the U.S. and increased Haitian dependence on foreign aid instead of helping to revive Haiti’s own agricultural production. “

However the White House recently released a proposal as a part of the 2014 budget authorization to reform this aspect of American food aid. The new proposal would enable the U.S. government to buy food commodities from the Global South and distribute that food locally. The proposal has received significant pushback from farmers, agro-businesses and some charitable organizations, all of whom have a stake in the current system of distribution and say the changes will have a drastic effect on both the U.S. economy and our ability to help people abroad. Advocates, on the other hand, see this as an important form of modernization. Ruth Messinger, President of AJWS, explained in a recent statement, “The President’s approach would be more efficient and effective, feed more hungry people worldwide today and contribute to a hunger-free world in the future.”

We will see if these reforms remain intact as the budget continues to be debated and works its way through Congress.


Image Courtesy of the International Post