A couple of months ago I posted about Frances Moore LappÃ©'s article in Yes! Magazine about civic initiatives in Belo Horizonte that are helping to reduce hunger in the Brazilian city. This prompted some spirited debate from readers, mostly about the role of government intervention in the market and whether or not that intervention is sound policy. After the jump, LappÃ© talks to TreeHugger about food democracy and how the local government in Belo Horizonte is working with citizens to reach the goal of ending hunger for a penny a day.
One of the things that drives me wild is the implication that hunger is intractable — as in "the poor shall always be with us." No. Ending hunger is not rocket science; it's not even rarified political science. Commonsense can end it, I've long believed. So I was thrilled when a few years ago my daughter Anna and I got to visit a big city, Belo Horizonte, Brazil — on the surface just like any other capitalist metropolis — that had chosen to make food a "right of citizenship."
Recently I updated what I'd learned for an article in Yes! Magazine. Basically, for a penny a day per resident this city of four million succeeded in reducing infant deaths — a common measure of hunger — by half in just a decade. Yes! called the piece "The City that Ended Hunger," and I was thrilled that it got a lot of play. Belo hasn't ended hunger, but compared to most of the rest of the world, it's heading in the right direction; and its lessons are powerful and pertinent anywhere. City officials shed the frame that food is a mere commodity like hair dryers or sneakers. Food is life, they recognized. (No special brilliance there.) But instead of pushing hand-outs, which divide citizens between the givers and receivers, officials brought diverse interest groups together to devise ingenious innovations making food, with dignity, drastically more accessible. Citizens and government partnered.
Since the essence of democracy is "voice"— I mean citizens' capacity to manifest our interests and values — and since no human being chooses to go hungry, the very existence of hunger has long been for me proof positive of democracy's absence. It is that simple. So I called the piece "food democracy on a penny a day." Then Yes! partnered with a school in Alaska that chose my essay as the basis of a student-essay contest. Students responded to the piece and I got to choose the winner. How fun for me! You can soon read the winning entry at Yes! and at Small Planet.
So the next time you read that hunger has increased in the last few years, arguably faster than ever in human history — by over 100 million in two years -- remember there's nothing inevitable about it. The answers are known, and even working. What's missing is belief that we can, yes we can, create real democracy.
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