Widespread hunger unacceptable as a political choice in a food-rich world

Unless you are a turkey, autumn is a blessed time in this most blessed of countries.

Harvest, Thanksgiving feasts, family are part of the tradition.

But that is an overview. Not all Canadians share in those benefits, those good times.

He was engaging in some over-the-top political rhetoric but on Oct. 7 as Canadians were getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend, Nova Scotia New Democrat Peter Stoffer noted in the House of Commons that Food Banks Canada says 910,000 Canadians have made use of food banks over the year.

Stoffer suggested that number do it regularly “making a total of 910,000 Canadians this Thanksgiving who will have to rely on the charity of a food bank to have sustenance over this weekend, including many veterans.”

Hyperbole or not, the MP was correct that tens if not hundreds of thousands of Canadians dined last Thanksgiving weekend thanks to charity.

In a country this rich, and this food rich, that is outrageous.

It is impossible not to make comparisons to a much poorer country with somewhat the same problem.

At a conference last week in Montreal’s McGill University where global food security was on the menu, Guatemalan academic Ottoniel Monterroso made the point that his Central American country has enough food to go around but millions go hungry.

“At the national level, food availability is not a problem in Guatemala,” he said. “Yet more than 25 percent of the people are undernourished.”

Childhood malnutrition levels are the highest in the Americas.

The problem is not a lack of food but poverty and a lack of government commitment to deal with the disparity between urban residents and the poor rural and indigenous inhabitants of the country’s western Highlands.

And so it is as the world prepares to mark World Food Day Oct. 16.

The theme this year is “food prices – from crisis to stability” and the official goal is to highlight why food prices fluctuate and how to alleviate the impact on the poor and most vulnerable.

It is not an unworthy objective but there is a deeper truth to ponder on World Food Day 2011 – in a world awash in food or certainly capable of producing as much food as necessary, close to one billion people are considered chronically undernourished, many of them starving.

Tens of millions of children are stunted because of a lack of nutrition, limited in their growth, their mental abilities, their chance of succeeding in the world.

Because of wars, natural disasters and other circumstances, the hungry always will be with us.

But the size of the constant army of hungry, second only to the populations of China and India, is a shameful disgrace.

With the food and production technology available, hunger and malnutrition are a blight on our humanity.

Accepting hunger on that scale is a political choice governments make – governments that do not invest in their food producing sectors and governments that could help more and have other priorities. It is a choice their populations accept.

It is a time of year when we are thankful for our blessings.

We should also take a Thanksgiving or World Food Day moment to be thankful we are not hunger refugees depending on a bowl of rice a day or subsistence farmers with just enough food to repeat the pattern again tomorrow.

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