Hunger as Violence

Starvation has been used as a weapon since humanity first began to gather in hamlets.  In order for a warlord to conquer a town or fortress with little effort, he would surround it and cut off all food sources until the starving community would surrender or die.  Starvation is a horrible way to die, so it is a particularly cruel weapon.

Hunger is also an effective way to control populations of people during times of relative peace.  If you have a recalcitrant population that you wish to control, you simply make their food sources scarce so you can keep them under your thumb: they are either too busy trying to source food from other venues to rebel, or they are ready to knuckle under and obey.  Hunger becomes a tool of extortion, controlling people without blatantly starving them to death.

All this comes to my mind when I consider that 40% of all food created in this country is either lost or thrown away before it ever gets to market, and that 45,000,000 Americans are at daily  food risk – they have no assurance that they will eat tomorrow.

There is a dissonance between these two stats that is disturbing in the extreme. How could one of the richest and most technically sophisticated nations in history lose so much food and tolerate so much hungry simultaneously?  Are we that incompetent, or are we perhaps that calculating?  Is this happenstance, or planned exploitation?

With each passing year, I more deeply suspect that it is calculated exploitation, even intentional cruelty, built into our economy and government policies.  Hunger is used to control the labor force in the US.

There is little doubt that much of the wealth creation in the US in the last 30 years has not gone to the wealth creators, but the wealth holders, those people at the top of our economic food chain that seem to own everything in sight.  The wealth creators (i.e., workers) have not seen a rise in real income in 30+ years, while the wealth holders (i.e., owners) have reaped the lion’s share of what the wealth creators have made.  It seems that hunger is playing a major role in maintaining this status quo.

The wealth creators are desperately busy trying to put food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads, often working two jobs and still depending on government assistance to feed their families.  They know that if they look for other work, little better-paying work will be found, and if they think about asking for a raise or organizing into a union, they will lose the jobs they have, putting their families at immediate food risk.  Fear of hunger drives them to knuckle under.

What’s more, the government programs that supplement the loss of income experienced by the wealth creators – SNAP, WIC, etc. – are increasingly slashed to keep the wealth creators poor and desperate.  A desperate workforce is an easily controlled workforce; if there is no assistance or alternative, a worker must knuckle under.

At St. John’s, we feed about 100 people a week at our free Saturday meal, and more and more of our guests are people who are employed but unable to meet their own basic needs.  They come with their families, looking to feed their children their first hot meal of the day.  The lines of people are particularly long in the second half of the month, when government food assistance begins to run out.  We have to turn people away sometimes, for we run out of food.

These desperate conditions are driven primarily by corporate America and their friends in government.  Trade policies that favor the wealth owners over the wealth creators drive jobs overseas or eliminate the power of the creators to leverage their position to negotiate better employment packages.  Political operatives buy influence that not only controls trade legislation but the very government programs that supplement the lost wages of the wealth creators, the very citizens who have no seat at the table when it comes to policies that directly affect their own lives.  When SNAP parameters are cut, the wealth creators are never consulted.  With lost meals due to SNAP cuts, creators have to find additional work or find food from the continually stressed food pantries.  Hunger haunts the halls of their lives like Banquo’s ghost.

The use of hunger as a tool to control populations of citizens is nothing less than a form of violence, perpetrated on the powerless.  It inflicts pain and trauma – physical, mental, and spiritual – on its victims for the sole purposes of profit and control.  When I consider what is being perpetrated on the poor and the powerless in my country, I cannot help but think about warlords surrounding the villages and starving them into submission.

I encourage all of my friends and colleagues to consider the aspects of violence relative to hunger in our country, and all the moral ramifications therein.  Hunger is violence perpetrated on the poor to exploit and control them, and whatsoever is done to the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, it is thereby done to Jesus himself.  (Matt. 25:40)  I encourage my friends and colleagues to teach and preach about the inherent violence of hunger and how we, as part of the Jesus Movement, must respond to hunger not only with our pocketbooks but with our government policies.  And I encourage everyone in the peace movement to include hunger as a form of violence they oppose.



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