The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Go Hungry

Starvation is often the result of inequity and politics, not a shortage of food

| September-October 2010

  • The Rich Get Richer Image

    Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle /

  • The Rich Get Richer Image

This article is part of a series of articles on food and the American diet. For more, read Food Fight , In Praise of Fast Food , Waste Not, Want Not , and The First Family’s Fallow Gardens . For more writing on food from the alternative press, visit .

What is the most common cause of hunger in the world? Is it drought? Flood? Locusts? Crop diseases? Nope. Most hunger in the world has absolutely nothing to do with food shortages. Most people who go to bed hungry, both in rich and in poor countries, do so in places where markets are filled with food that they cannot have.

Despite this fact, much of the discourse about reforming our food system has focused on the necessity of raising yields. Though it is true that we might need more food in coming years, it is also true that the world produces more food calories than are needed to sustain its entire population. The problem is unequal access to food, land, and wealth, and any discussion must begin not from fantasies of massive yield increases, but from the truth that the hunger of the poor is in part a choice of the rich.

Inequity and politics, not food shortages, were at the root of almost all famines in the 20th century. Brazil, for example, exported $20 billion worth of food in 2002, while millions of its people went hungry. During Ethiopian famines in the 1980s, the country also exported food. Many of even the poorest nations can feed themselves—or could in a society with fairer allocation of resources.

It can be hard to grasp the degree to which the Western lifestyle is implicated. We don’t realize that when we buy imported shrimp or coffee we are often literally taking food from poor people. We don’t realize that our economic system is doing harm; in fact, the system conspires to make it nearly impossible to figure out whether what we’re doing is destructive or regenerative.

We have been assured that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” that it is necessary for us to make rich people richer, because that will, in turn, enrich the poor. The consequences have been disastrous—for the planet and for the people whose food systems have been disrupted, who never had a chance to be lifted by any tide.

10/18/2010 8:21:19 AM

Brianz, You should move to fantasy land to set up your utopian society where evil does not exist and there are no Hitlers, Amadejads, or Kim Jong's who wish to wage war, commit genocide and exploit the people whom they wish to rule over. Or all of those guys just misunderstood commy's who only wish is to protect themselves from the evil empire? Why you are setting up your fantasy land try to come up with an idea for feeding the poor that does not include stealing from the "rich". How bout equipping people with skills instead of a mentality of entitlement.

9/17/2010 3:31:32 PM

The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Go Hungry because we continue to teach and take part of a monetary scarcity myth in our economic system. We need to answer basic questions about why there is always enough money to wage wars, bail out banks, subsidise companies, have lavish government world summits, reduce taxes to the rich while explaining to the workers and the working poor that there is not enough money to maintain their health care, education system and social services. We need to explain why we continue to rationalize and support the biggest of lies that million dollar salaries, bonuses and retirement packages for the rich and famous are needed to attract talent and to motivate them. These ridiculous excuses that we keep teaching in our ethnocentric education system and economics contributes to keeping citizens stupid and docile. The American Dream does not need to be defined in opulence but in affording a comfortable life for all. If all the above waste of money that is being rationalized by the rich and their cronies worldwide were re-channelled back to the needs of all the citizens, we would have enough to feed, educate, maintain and support health care and social services for all citizens. Hazel Henderson suggested that 24.9% of the worldwide war budget would do the job. Imagine what we could do if we examined and relocated all the other worldwide budgets of wasted funds to support fortunate sons and corporate welfare bums. So let's quit heehawing around with the above myth.

9/15/2010 4:57:17 PM

This is way too complicated. Why can't we just put on a play in the barn. You bring the paint, I'll bring the costumes and we can all notify our neighbors who will fill the seats and clap and smile. Even Mr. Potter. Oh wait, I am mixing Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies with "It's a Wonderful Life." Pleae refer back to the Tea Partiers liking Ike article for my correct editorial.

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