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A good friend recommended that I read The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist, which examines our relationship with money. Since I started it, I have not been able to put it down. It's chock full of wisdom that calls into question some of our most fundamental preconceived notions about money and the meaning and power we place on it in our everyday lives.
Ultimately, Twist argues for us to be mindful of how we earn, spend, and give money in a way that helps feed our soul and ultimately benefits humanity as a whole. She headed up the Hunger Project for years and has personally seen and grappled with the great disparity of wealth that exists in a world where so many lack something as basic as food. The below excerpt about hunger so inspired me that I wanted to share it with you all.
Enjoy! xx LBL
The Mystery of Hunger And Our Struggle With Scarcity, an excerpt from The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist.
Hunger and scarcity would seem to be obviously and inexorably linked. How could I work so intimately in settings where food and ware are so scarce, and insist that scarcity is all a lie? All i can say is that it is the harsh and surprising realities of the experience that have forced me to look beyond the obvious. I have struggled to understand the tragedy of hunger. Hunger isn’t some mysterious disease. It’s not a mutant gene or a wild force of nature. We know what to do when a child is hungry. We know what a starving person needs. They need food. There is nothing in the picture of global resources that explains why one-fifth of humanity is hungry and malnourished. The world is awash in food. We currently have more food on earth than we need to feed everyone several times over. Waste abounds. In several countries, including the United States, farmers are said to not grow food. Cattle that are raised for slaughter consume enough resources to feed every hungry child and adult.
In 1977, when I first committed to working to end world hunger, I assumed that people were starving because they didn’t have enough food, and if we just got food to the people out there who are hungry, that would solve the problem of chronic hunger in the world. It all seemed so logical. But if matching the world’s food supply with the world’s hungry people held the solution, what explained the stubborn, tragic statistics and realities of hunger that would seem to make us incapable of resolving it? How could it be that in a world with more than enough food to go around 41,000 people, most of them children under the age of five were dying each day of hunger and hunger-related causes?
Could it be that no one cares? When hungry children cry for food, they cry out not as Bangladeshis or Italians, or children from the poor side of our town. They cry out as human beings, and it is at that level of our humanity that we need to respond. Is it that we can’t hear those cries and respond as caring members of the human family? What would have so many of us turn a blind eye and deaf ear to a child’s cry, and make a choice just to take care of “our own” —even when we have plenty to feed “our own” and others, too?
Yet, if caring were the answer, how could it be that even the massive donations of food and money that some people make don’t lead to a lasting solution?
Could the problem be distribution? How could that be when American soft drinks are practically within an arm’s reach of everyone on earth?
Could it be logistics? How could that be, when the most powerful nations like ours have logistical capabilities to deliver armed missiles and bombs for precise military strikes virtually anywhere in the world?
Could it be politics? Could we be so cynical and self-serving that we would let a starving child die because we disagree as adults about political or economic ideologies?
What is it that allows us to hear the cry and yet fail to respond effectively?
The more time I spent with people who live in hunger and with people who work or give money to feed them, the more I clearly saw that the cause of chronic hunger wasn’t just the absence of food. What causes hunger and starvation is something more fundamental than that, because no matter how much food you might move from point A to point B, while it might make a huge difference to a number of people for a period of time, it does not resolve the hunger issue.
History teaches us that lesson. The flood of aid that went into Ethiopia in 1985 fed many people for a period of time, but did not resolve that country’s hunger issue. Ethiopia remains a hungry, impoverished country. The food aid that was sent into Somalia during the crisis there in 1993 and 1994 fed a hungry few, but actually exacerbated the violence and corruption that was taking place during the civil war there. The food aid that flooded into Biafra during the Biafran war, the food aid to Cambodia during the Cambodian crisis—the aid was not a bad thing, some people were fed, but it also did not solve the long term problem of chronic, persistent hunger.
In those events of massive infusions of food aid, time and again, to the point of becoming routine, the food supplies were stolen and resold by the corrupt power of brokers who thrive on the greed and graft that is rife in embattled countries. Further, the massive amounts of food aid deflated the local marker, meaning that those farmers who did grow grain could no longer sell it because free food was everywhere—at least for a time, as the scramble to hoard and control it played out. The disastrous cycle of aid, corruption, disrupted markets, and disastrous farming investments became part of a problem instead of a solution. The cycle on perpetuated the root causes of the crisis.
Ultimately, the societal effect of massive aid of this kind was that people at the receiving end, even those who got some portion of the food, became even more disabled, more impoverished, than they were before. They felt debilitated and helpless by the fact that they couldn’t take care of themselves and had become welfare recipients, beholden to outsiders to bail them out again and again. They felt lessened and weakened, and the future prospect of their own self-sufficiency was often suppressed and diminished by the behavior they needed to exhibit in these situations to get their hands on the “free” food. Time and again, when money or aid flowed into communities through systems based on these scarcity assumptions, the relief was short-lived, and those on both sides of the transaction were left feeling ineffective.
I struggled with this question for years, as have others engaged in work to end hunger, in search of answers that might suggest a solution to this ongoing tragedy. When I considered the underlying beliefs held in common by most everyone everywhere—every system, every institution, every point of view, including those suffering from hunger — I saw that there were fundamental assumptions that disabled almost every effort to solve the problem. All of them could be traced to the myths and mind-set of scarcity.
No matter what our economic circumstances:
When we believe there is not enough, that resources are scarce, then we accept that some will have what they need and some will not. We rationalize that someone is destined to end up with the short end of the stick.
When we believe that more is better, and equate having more with being more—more smart or more able—then people on the short end of that resource stick are assumed to be less smart, less able, even less valuable, as human beings. We feel we have permission to discount them.
When we believe that’s just the way things are, then we assume a posture of helplessness. We believe that a problem is unsolvable. We accept that in our human family neither the resource-rich members nor the resource-poor members have enough money, enough food, or enough intelligence or resourcefulness to generate lasting solutions.
The Hunger Project, by systematically challenging false assumptions about chronic hunger and food aid, exposed the myth of scarcity and opened new avenues of inquiry and possibility, eventually succeeding in making a significant contribution to the eradication of hunger by empowering people to author their own recovery. In every situation, from individuals to large populations of people, uncovering the lie and the myths of scarcity has been the first and most powerful step in the transformation from helplessness and resignation to possibility and self-reliance.
We often philosophize about the great, unanswered questions in life. It’s time we looked instead at the unquestioned answers, and the biggest, most unquestioned answer of our culture is our relationship with money. It is there that we keep alive—at a high cost—the flame and mythology of scarcity.