The Real Hunger Games
I just finished reading the first book in the Hunger Games series, shortly after seeing the movie, and was surprised by how much I liked both. I suppose whenever there is this much hype around something, like many, I ask the question, “how good can it really be?”. Certainly it is no masterpiece of writing or filmmaking, nonetheless though they are both solid pieces of work. But hey, I’m just one more opinion on a series that already has plenty. So rather than focus on the book or film, I figured I would share some connections to real-life that have been simmering upstairs for a bit (ahem, first of the food metaphors I’ll throw in for good measure).
A world where some live in total excess, with an abundance of food to eat, consumed by pop culture that is filled to the brim with every sort of entertainment imaginable, indulging in the latest bizarre fashions, obsessed with appearances and living in luxurious, modern comfort. This contrasted with the rest – who scrape to get by, working back-breaking jobs day in and day out, barely able to provide enough for their family, lacking many modern day comforts and even necessities such as medicine, and of course – consistently, chronically hungry.
I could be describing the world Collins’ creates in Hunger Games, but (probably to no one’s surprise) what I’m really talking about is the state of affairs on this planet we share – today. Perhaps the inequality in Hunger Games is more starkly evident, but it is no less real in today’s state of affairs. Let me give you a recent example.
For breakfast this morning, with NPR playing in the background, I took my time mixing various ingredients together and pouring them into an electronic machine that exists for the sole purpose of making this one type of food we call waffles. And then I poured some coffee grinds, that came from across the globe, into another machine that exists solely for the purpose of this one beverage. Oh, and why not, I had a glass of orange juice alongside a pill that was manufactured to have all the minerals and vitamins that I should have in addition to what I’ll get from my food today. That was just the first meal of my day – I get to do that at least twice more. And while I was preparing that food and then eating it with a side of New Yorker reading, during that very same time, a child somewhere on this planet likely breathed their last breath from deep within their utterly empty belly, because they had precisely nothing to eat today.
Is that a stark enough description of an unequal world? It is for me. It makes my blood boil and my eyes water. But feeling angry or sad about it, that most certainly is not enough. So I go into work every day for an organization whose mission it is to put an end to this sort of injustice. But that isn’t enough either. I donate some money and sign some petitions. Still not enough though. So I think more about it, I feel more, and sometimes I write, like this. The truth is, most of us don’t do enough. If we did, not a single person would go hungry today. We’re human, and we are imperfect beings. But I believe what really makes us human is the very connection we have to each other. We want to do good. We want to help each other. Ultimately, I think there is hope.
But what can we do to tackle such huge problems? I mean, practically, what can we do? Certainly, we can donate. I think we owe that to the people we share this planet with. We can (and must) also tackle the systemic problems, including those problems surrounding the very way that we as a country try to help others. Here is just one of them: The way by which we help people in the world can often be clouded by self-interests. Once again – we’re human. If we can help people in a way that will also help ourselves, why not? The problem is that sometimes we help ourselves at the expense of others. The way U.S. food aid works is a prime example. Currently, for every dollar we spend on food aid, only 47 cents is spent on the actual food! I believe exclamation marks were invented for sentences like that. A new infographic (see below) we produced at Oxfam America with the American Jewish World Service (I use ‘we’ loosely because I had nothing to do with the production part) illustrates just how screwed up the food aid system is, and also points to the solution; buy food locally in developing countries! Our dollars would go twice as far, which means they would help twice as much. The technical term for that is no-brainer. Oh, and guess what? Not only does that mean more food gets to people who need it, it also means we’re supporting farmers in these countries, so that they can address the long-term problem of food production.
Now, when special interests are involved in Washington, making change like this is difficult. That’s why we need to come together on this sort of thing, collectively, and say “it’s not okay”. To be more specific, we need to tell Congress to reform the Farm Bill which is where the self-serving restrictions on food aid live. And you can do that by signing this petition.
This is just one piece to a very large puzzle, but it is significant. Hunger is not a game, it’s a reality that about one billion people across the globe (including in the U.S.) live every day. And it is most definitely a reality that we can change.