Monday, October 1, 2018

Andy Fisher Talk: Are Food Pantries Really the Answer?

This blog post was written by Jessica McKinney, the 2018-2020 SPEA Fellow.

"Instead of fighting hunger, shouldn’t we be preventing poverty?” - Oscar Wilde

On September 5th, 2018, The Hub co-hosted a conversation with Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger. In his book, Fisher outlines how the emergency food system, once a stop-gap for individuals and families in need, has become a fixture in communities across the US. Andy spoke about a variety of topics pertaining to emergency food systems that connect back to his book, but one question really stuck out.

Do food pantries really “solve hunger”?

Andy answers with a firm No, stating in his talk, “Charity is not a bad thing, but it is a BandAid to the real problem.” He argues that we are only temporarily fixing a small part of a bigger picture issue that society doesn’t want to acknowledge. This argument is not one that is dominant in emergency food systems right now, but individuals and organizations, like The Hub, want that to change. By inviting a speaker like Andy to talk about these issues, a conversation can finally start on how to shift towards long-lasting change. Janet Poppendieck, author of Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, also pushes for more than surface level solutions, saying that food pantries were made, and the majority to this day are still used, to combat immediate, short-term hunger. Long-term problems should not be met with short-term solutions -- which, then, begs the question, what should we be doing instead to try to solve hunger?

As Andy put it, “We all know this intuitively... a can of beans isn’t going to solve hunger, it has become a BandAid on what has become stage four cancer in our society.” 

Instead of looking at hunger as a surface level issue, we should be analyzing the systematic barriers that lead to people being hungry. Andy asserts that “Hunger is a symptom of poverty” and that, “African Americans tend to be at higher rates of food insecurity than Whites…[and] Women, especially single moms, tend to have higher rates of food insecurity.” It isn’t a coincidence that these groups are in poverty more than others; Karen Washington, a community activist, says that it’s clear that the real reasons for women and people of color are the most impoverished are systematic, in nature. The country and its government were founded on sexism and racism, and barriers have been set in place for decades against women and people of color that have caused these two groups to be the most impoverished. Gentrification, redlining, lower wages, food desserts, and lack of a social safety net are only some examples of these barriers.

So now that we’ve acknowledged that poverty is a result of systematic powers, what can we do to end it? Different people have different answers, but The Hub suggests bottom-up change. We invited Andy Fisher to Bloomington, IN because we know, and advocate, that food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum. This issue contains multiple factors that have to be considered when making a call to action to prevent poverty and, in effect, prevent hunger.

For any who went to the talk or maybe a few of you after reading this, you might be thinking to yourselves, This brings up a lot more questions than solutions! Don’t worry! We get that and want to direct you into a place of determination and action, instead of the bottomless pit you are looking down. 

The Hub hosts a monthly dinner to connect community members and offer space to discuss food access, housing, healthcare and more. Join us for an upcoming Hub Dinner to connect with neighbors and friends over a delicious meal, dig into tough discussions, and take action together. Our next meeting is October 22nd and the food is always great (If we do say so, ourselves)! Please check Facebook for other dates, going forward.