- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

We won’t ease world hunger until the majority of the people believe that food is a right and not a privilege.

I have been sharing food with the hungry for nearly 30 years, and the crisis has never been more dire. Nearly 25,000 people lose their lives each day to hunger. The problem is not that the world is unable to produce enough food but that there is lack of access to democracy.

An informed public, empowered enough to influence their representatives, would insist on policies that made sure everyone had enough to eat. Strong democracies in the world’s hungriest countries implement policies that encourage the cultivation of food for their communities, instead of cash crops exported to the overfed.

A strong democracy in the United States would insist on policies that stop the dumping of cheap, subsidized food in foreign markets — policies that would redirect a billion dollars, or $2 billion, from military budgets to spend on irrigation, seeds and education in sustainable farming.

Change the assumption that food is a commodity to a belief that food is a basic human right, and we will ease world hunger.

The people of the United States could have a dramatic impact on world hunger if they exercised influence over the political system and united around a strategy to confront corporate domination of our society. The power of global corporations to manipulate policies must come to an end.

First, we must end U.S. farm subsidies for agribusiness and make it possible for farmers in hungry countries to make a living selling their crops to their communities at a reasonable price.

An informed public would not let genetically modified products be forced on the world through trade agreements to save thousands of farmers from going bankrupt when they are unable to afford the high cost of genetically modified seeds and the chemicals required for cultivation. Growing seed crops is a basic right.

Ending trade agreements that increase the distance food travels and encourages export crops that mainly profit global corporations would also ease world hunger.

The cost of operating farm equipment, the cost of transporting seeds to a farm where they were previously grown on site, the cost of chemicals required to grow corporate-controlled seeds and the cost of transporting the harvest to market are contributing to farm foreclosures.

The deregulation of the financial industry in the United States contributed to the collapse of the housing market, and speculators rushed to invest in agricultural commodities, driving up the cost of rice and other staples for consumers while driving down the income for producers.

The World Food Organization reported that more than 800 million people were forced into crisis as the cost of food doubled in April 2008. Another wave of farmers was priced off their fields as speculators in financial capitals reaped the profits.

As long as we let corporate money dominate government policy, world hunger will increase. Easing world hunger requires a well-planned, nonviolent campaign of mass action to install policies that make food a right and limit corporate power.

The Food Not Bombs movement has been teaching a grass-roots form of democracy called consensus for nearly three decades, involving the hungry in our decision-making process.

Experiencing democracy at the most basic grass-roots level amplifies the failure of the current political system. People of every background are involved collecting food, cooking and sharing meals. There are Food Not Bombs groups in nearly a thousand cities around the world, busy each week reaching out to their communities about issues of hunger, war, poverty, the environment and human and animal rights.

Food Not Bombs has been providing logistics and food at protests to stop the devastation of the nondemocratic trade agreements since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, to the Group of 20 conference in Pittsburgh in September.

Volunteers provided meals during a 600-day farmer’s vigil in Sarajevo, the 100-day Orange Revolution in the Ukraine and for striking autoworkers in Korea. When the biotech industry holds a conference, you will often find Food Not Bombs outside feeding the protesters. Food Not Bombs volunteers mobilized the nation and provided much of the food for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Food Not Bombs isn’t a charity. I plan to sit in front of the White House starting July 4th and bake bread in a solar oven, while asking the public to sign a petition to President Obama that outlines six changes that would have a huge impact on world hunger.

It will take thousands of earnest people sitting outside the White House to end the domination of corporate leaders over our democracy, and it will take an informed public that sees the value of food as a right and not a privilege, to make policies that ease world hunger.

Keith McHenry is co-founder of Food Not Bombs Movement.

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