Combating Hunger


BOB ABERNETHY: One important lobby is the Christian group Bread for the World, which fights hunger here and abroad. Reverend David Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor, is president of Bread for the World. David welcome.

DAVID BECKMANN (President, Bread for the World): Thank you.

ABERNETHY: Bring us up to date, how many hungry people are there in the United States?

BECKMANN: It’s now 1 in 7 Americans who lives in a household that runs out of food.

ABERNETHY: Runs out of food what? Each month or?

BECKMANN: The typical pattern is the last 2 or 3 days of the month, people run out of food. So the kids may not eat for the last couple days, the mom may not eat for 4 days, it’s 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 who lives in one of those households and that kind of moderate under nutrition does permanent damage to children.

ABERNETHY: Now the supercommittee in Congress failed this week to come up with any plan about the long term control of the deficit. What does that mean for you and the people who are trying to fight hunger? There was to be an across the board cut that was gonna kick in if there was this failure. Is it going to kick in and if so what does that mean for hungry people?

post01-combatinghungerBECKMANN: Well, Bread for the World and other faith groups have been fighting for a circle of protection around funding for hungry and poor people because we can reduce deficit spending without making hungry people hungrier. And we were able to secure in the Budget Control Act that established the super committee and these automatic cuts a provision that will exempt some of the low income programs from cuts if those automatic cuts go into effect. So I would have liked to see the super committee reach a deal but the automatic cuts aren’t necessarily a disaster for poor people.

ABERNETHY: Because of the exemption?

BECKMANN: Yeah, and because people of faith pushed for it.

ABERNETHY: What about overseas? What’s going on there with American food aid?

BECKMANN: Well we were terrified earlier this year because the House of Representatives voted on a deep cut in food aid. Their cut would have thrown 14 million of the world’s most desperate people off food aid rations this year. So we really sounded an alarm about that, we talked to Mr. Boehner’s office, we talked to the President himself and in the final bill which passed this week they backed away from that really disastrous cut for hungry people.

ABERNETHY: A few weeks ago we heard that there were 7 billion people on Earth and the forecast was this would be going up to 9 billion by 2050. Can all those people be fed?

BECKMANN: Well I think we need to curtail population growth, but those people can be fed, and the key is an expansion of the productivity of poor farmers in poor countries. They can grow more to feed their own families, to raise their incomes. That’s where the food will come from for poor countries.

ABERNETHY: You mean rather than have it grown here and shipped someplace else?

BECKMANN: I think expanding demand for food will also be good for US agriculture but the bulk of the supply needs to come from the expansion of poor country, poor farmer agriculture.

ABERNETHY: And this week you came out with a proposal to change the system between the government and farmers in this country. What do you want to do?

BECKMANN: Well, we think it’s possible to develop a system that would be better for farmers especially small medium scale farms, fruit and vegetable growers, better for hungry people, better for a healthy food supply and that would cost the government less money. So this is an area where we want to support cuts but we don’t want the cuts to come from the nutrition assistance to poor people that’s included in the farm bill. On all these things basically we have to create the political will to overcome hunger. When we’ve had that political will to reduce poverty we’ve been able to do it in our country, and that’s what we need to mobilize now.

ABERNETHY: If all the federal aid for hunger, to prevent hunger, went away, could private charities pick up the slack?

BECKMANN: No, absolutely not. People think that but in fact all the food that we collect from all the churches and synagogues in the country, all the food banks, it’s important but it all amounts to 6% of the food that poor people get from the federal food programs. That’s food stamps, school lunches, WIC. So if Congress decides to cut the federal food programs by 6%, 12%, there’s no way that churches and charities can pick up the gap. We need to also get our government to do its part to end hunger.

ABERNETHY: David Beckmann of Bread for the World. Many thanks.

  • Debra Gonsher

    David Beckmann was also interviewed recently for the documentary A PEACE OF BREAD: Faith, Food, and the Future which is airing nationally on ABC local stations. For a listing of the airtimes go to

  • Jonathan

    I was watching last night. Honestly, there are some real world solutions to hunger, which can get past the politics and the economics. When, Rev. Beckman talk about 1 in 7 in America go hungry and normally it is at the end of the month, the real world solution is to produce more food locally. I know from personally experience to know what it is like to live on limited budget because of unemployment. My wife, daughter (2) and myself get food stamps and get some financial assistance from the government and we also go to some pantries for food. These two sources help when you unemployed or underemployed, but there is much longer term solution. I started growing my own food. I have a degree in biology, and took it upon myself to learn as much as I can about plants, growing them indoors and outdoors, and about horticulture. My wife is originally from Israel and I was amazed how much food they could produce on such small amount of land and how the cost was so low. The food is produced locally, by small farmers, less is imported and less is owned by large corporation. In my local area there are local ordinances that prevent a person from owning live stock animals. If the laws were to change then more people would raise some live stocks such as chickens, and goats. (In Israel and India this is allowed). Eggs and milk are complete proteins. And if each person had a garden in their yard and each city had a community garden and empty city lots were turned back into farms then cost of food would drop. Some change take a change in the politcal will, but growing your own food is a reality which can happen now. I have even discussed with my wife about aguaculture in our basement. I live in the Detroit Metro area and I have seen a lot these things happening in some communities, real independence goes back to the idea of homesteads, and the noble farmer. Even, the homeless can be part of the solution. Homeless shelters could produce some of the food on their property and those gardens could be maintained by the people who are staying at the shelter. Food can be grown both indoors and outdoors. There are real technical solutions. And in other parts of the world better methods of farmer have to be used to increase production, as well improved storage and distribution. In Israel, they desalinate the water that is used on the farmers and by the general public for drinking. A large number of scientific and technical methods to improve production have been developed, such as the drip irrigation method. They grow a wide range of crops, to include tropical and temperate crops, ranging from bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, avacados and lots more. Part of my routine is I saved seeds. I also have grown vegetables from cuttings such as cabage and cauliflower (plant cloning, this I did by accident, but was successful several times afterwards, but I learned about this in a biotech course I took). Cutting can also include the root bottoms from onions, tops of turnips, radishes. Cutting of potatoes and carrots. A cheap sources of seeds comes from the grocers. Such as beans, and corn and the spice rack. I also compost my vegetable waste. Some people would argue it takes too much time, but actually it doesn’t. You have to throw away cuttings, so you dump it in different bucket and you plant once maybe twice a year. Some weeding, unless you can aford weed killer. I know from all my course growing organic or non organic isn’t always as much of big deal. I have used fertilizer and compost. Last year I planted fruit tree and everyone told me it would take several years before I got fruit, well it happened within a year. I am never going to discourage. But, if everyone made an effort and grew as much food as possible on their property and help their neighbors and maybe even did a little trade you would see a radical change in food distribution, and improved health.

  • James LaForest

    With farm policies that pay farmers not to grow food, or to grow it and throw it all away, we should not be surprised. There is a terrible price to pay for agricultural policies that favor the huge multi-national corporations that control the food supply network in the US. When I volunteered at the Lakeview Food Pantry in chicago,, I remember that what was provided to the clients was a surprisingly small amount of food. It was something to ‘tide them over’ until they could come up with other alternatives. Food banks are vital, but they are not the solution to a worldwide hunger problem.

    James LaForest