Posted by: manafanana | April 30, 2008

The rising cost of food = very real hunger (Part I)

Note: As outcrazyophelia knows well, I’ve been unable to post on or help maintain Feminocracy for the last month since I’ve been spending night and day trying to finish my thesis. But I submitted my final draft Monday, which means I should now have plenty of opportunity to make frequent posts!!! (Until the college takes my computer away, that is.)

This is likely the first in a series of posts about the effects of the global food shortage on people in the United States and around the world, and the unique challenges faced by women in the affected regions.

The United Nations will set up a top-level task force to tackle the global food crisis and avert “social unrest on an unprecedented scale,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday. (AP)

As most of us probably know by now, the rising cost of food has sparked outcries from some of the world’s poorest citizens, and the UN and other NGOs have been struggling to cope and provide relief to those in need. The “shortage,” which is really more an issue of unequal distribution, is due to the amalgamation of dozens of problems ranging from increased demand in countries like India and China, widespread droughts (that some attribute to Global Warming), the high cost of fuel and fertilizer, the popularization of biofuel technology, exploding populations in poor regions, unfair trade practices facilitated by agreements like NAFTA, local laws, and the list goes on and on.

In most of the mainstream broadcasts I’ve seen, commentators have made it abundantly clear that there is no shortage of food in America (unless you live near a Costco and need to make Sushi for 1,500 people). The media lens, as usual, has failed to illustrate the complexities of the issue at hand, and the idea that the food crisis is not affecting Americans is misguided, if not downright irresponsible. This MSNBC article states:

Our grocery stores — those endlessly long aisles piled high with all manner of grains, produce, meat and delicacies…[are] a hallmark of America’s largesse; for us, it’s a constant reminder that, whatever problems we may face here, we live in the land of plenty. (MSNBC)

The article goes on to state that there is no food shortage in the United States (this is true), but that American’s may feel the food crunch in their wallets, as the cost of our abundant food supply steadily rises. Indeed. In a nation where 37,000,000 people (about 12%) are living below the poverty line including, by some estimates, 42% of all single mothers and 20% of children; where inflation and reductions in salaries, a recession, credit and housing crises, have put financial strain on all Americans, regardless of their socio-economic statuses; where federal and state governments have recently cut funding to programs that support those citizens most in need of assistance it seems a stretch to say that the cost of food will only have an effect on our wallets.

It’s true that for many Americans, the high price of food may translate into having to hold off buying that new iPod, or going for generic rather than brand-name tomato sauce, but for millions of Americans it might translate into more serious consequences. For some reason the American media consistently fails to grasp the fact that there are people starving in this country. There are Americans whose families subsist on $5 a day in food stamps, who rely on food pantries to supplement their diets, and who are in dire need of medical care because of the effects of malnutrition–and women, children, and minorities are overrepresented among these affected individuals.  (See the Union-Tribune’s  excellent article on the shortage in the SanDiego area.)

But the media’s ignore-ance of America’s poor is not the only issue at stake here. Since the food shortage supposedly doesn’t affect us, much of the coverage of the topic has been cursory at best. A lot of the focus has been on the overthrow of the Haitian president, riots in Egypt, and other stories accompanied by dramatic imagery that is good for ratings and frequently Otherizes and homogenizes non-white people (what else is new?).

But there are other stories that aren’t being covered that are deserving of attention. In this article from IPS, the Committee for Asian Women discusses how women in the region often suffer more consequences when prices go up:

‘’Women are definitely the worst affected when food prices go up. They will have to bear additional burdens for their families,’’ Lucia Jayaseelan, CAW’s executive coordinator, told IPS following the campaign’s launch. ‘’They also end up making huge sacrifices, such as being the last to eat in a family that is suddenly faced with limited food at home.’’

In addition, women are driven to seek additional jobs in the informal sector, often compelling them to work for longer hours, she added. ‘’They take on more work, like tailoring or packing things into small packages in their homes. Some women end up having to do three jobs.’’

Compounding the problem is the lack of a basic minimum wage for such female workers, Jayaseelan said. ‘’In many Asian countries there is no minimum wage. And where they do exist, they do not take into account the rise in inflation.’’

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women make up 38.7 percent, or some 730 million, of the Asia-Pacific region’s total workforce, currently estimated at 1.9 billion people. But close to 65 percent of female workers earn a living in the ‘’vulnerable’’ and ‘’informal’’ sector, where there are no steady wages or social benefits. (IPS)

Now the question is how do we raise awareness of issues like this in a way that effects change? I’m not entirely sure, but I know I have seen little coverage of this topic in the blogosphere, so it’s time for us to step up and take a close and critical look. The global food shortage is a feminist issue and a human rights issue, and certainly one worthy of our attention.

To be continued…

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Responses

  1. “For some reason the American media consistently fails to grasp the fact that there are people starving in this country.”

    The impoverished are a pretty invisible group. People donate to the Salvation Army at Christmas and Thanksgiving and forget about it. In addition to the gender component of poverty, there is a racial component as well. Social programs dedicated to aiding the poor are painted as black programs. “Welfare mom” conjures up images of a black woman–thanks to Reagan’s creative fiction of the welfare queen. And we all know how visible black women are in the media.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head though, the US media is functionally incapable of giving a great deal of face time to anything not directly affecting Americans, furthermore, if it isn’t happening to middle class Americans, it isn’t happening at all according to our media sources.

  2. It’s like…. everyone in America is taught to ignore the poor people in their own country. That the poor are where they are because of their own choices and that they’re somehow ‘less’ than we are. It’s a coping mechanism, so they can mind their own business and they don’t have to count their blessings. So they can feel ‘good’, so they can make themselves to be the ‘true victims’ to the richer above them. Then they can show their children the news of the poor from other countries and use it as proof that the US is the best country on the Earth because there are no poor people like that here.

  3. […] distributional issue. This is about getting enough to eat. (I make no claim to originality here: several women* are writing on this issue right […]

  4. […] distributional issue. This is about getting enough to eat. (I make no claim to originality here: several women* are writing on this issue right […]

  5. […] Issue: Keeping the Third Horseman at Bay” Feministe: “Food is a Feminist Issue” Feminocracy: “the Rising Cost of Food = Very Real Hunger, Part 1″ Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Structural Barriers to Local Food Part II: Urban […]

  6. “…we live in the land of plenty.”

    It’s like that old Margaret Bourke-White photo of poor black people waiting in the unemployment line in front a giant billboard depicting a happy white nuclear family. “Highest Standard of Living in the World!” “There’s No Way Like the American Way!” Thanks for the disinfo, MSNBC!

  7. […] @ 9:28 am And there’s a world-wide famine. Go read Diary of an Anxious Black Woman. And Feminocracy. And Feministe. This is desperately important stuff. (*Title from ABW.) […]

  8. […] when I enthusiastically clicked on a link titled “the problem with fertilizer” – but this post from Feminocracy, based loosely around two links, has helped me frame my thinking a little […]


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