Yesterday was World Food Day, a day to mark the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations. This organization was established on October 16, 1945 and its purpose is to make sure that the world gets adequately fed, but their latest report reeks of failures. While we would have loved to have been in Rome to hear the 6th Annual George McGovern World Food Day lecture by Marion Nestle, we were busy teaching high schoolers. And while we weren’t there, we feel good knowing that her comments about the solutions to hunger lie squarely in the social sphere, not the tech-world.
While Bill Gates, who also spoke this week (at the World Food Prize forum), firmly believes that developments in technology (mainly transgenic plants and fertilizers) will play a major role in solving hunger issues, he misdirects his frustrations by blaming environmentalists. He’s correct in asserting that technology has a role to play, but the inability of poor farmers to grow crops is only a small part of the problem facing those starving in the third world. If you want to point fingers, environmentalists are minor and largely irrelevant target. I recommend starting with someone bigger, maybe the World Bank?
For all the hype about the development of new tech-crops, like those of the Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution in the 70s, which produced high-yield rice and wheat (and won him a Nobel prize), we already know what solves hunger: Breastfeeding, clean water and safe food, empowerment of women, education, community food security, sustainable agriculture, and political stability. The technology Gates is talking about has yet to solve such problems, and probably never will (although, I’m open to it!). However, amidst all the passionate calls to end hunger, there was one voice that definitely stood out, and it wasn’t that of Pope Benedict the XVI.
While the Pope called for “determined and effective” action from Rome on World Hunger Day, and said that, “Access to food is more than a basic need, it is a fundamental right of individuals and peoples,” his own organization has the money to meet many of these needs and could do more. Even Jesus told his followers to sell what they had and give it to the poor. While the Catholic Church and its thousands of charities across the globe are known for their dedication to the poor, it’s hard for folks like Sarah Silverman to take the Pope seriously when he has a palace to sleep in. Maybe this is why Silverman decided to call him out. Even though selling the Vatican wouldn’t be enough, it would be helpful.
While the Web site Slashfood.com has recently ranked their “Top 10 Most Awesome Food Mascots,” (the Jolly Green Giant should have been #1), we are giving our own award, and it goes to Sarah Silverman for “Best World Food Day” message of 2009. While many will find her message crude, she has a point: If we say we care, we need to ante up. Which is why I have decided to take Peter Singer’s challenge from his latest book “The Life You Can Save” and give a percentage of my income each month to groups working on these issues. It’s not the only thing I plan to do, but it is one that is vital. To the pope: Do it, sell the Vatican, and feed the 1 billion people who need it. It’s just a building.
p.s. In other news: