Love Food, Hate Injustice

Have you ever gone to sleep hungry? Not in a “I stayed out late, drank a lot, and Bon Chon stops serving chicken at 11 PM” kinda way- I’m talking about real hunger, where even if you have had something to eat it’s so nutritionally poor that your body’s hard wired need for fat, salt, sustenance kicks in and you can’t think of, or do, much else. I have, and while for me the experience is, fortunately, a distant memory there are others who are living that right now. My passion for food comes not just from personal enjoyment but community- how cool is it that we can all (no matter our backgrounds, income, or place of birth) share the same experience through food?

However, if pleasure doesn’t discriminate neither does hunger, and ironically it is often the people that produce our bounty of food that are the first to go hungry. It was with a spirit of celebration and determination that I found myself at Oxfam America and the Boston Oxfam Action Corps’ Feeding Boston, Changing the World event in honor of International Women’s Day. Nancy Delaney, Community Engagement Manager at Oxfam America, generously sat down with me to discuss women’s successes and challenges in global food production.

HnS: In Boston, like a lot of other communities, we have people who are passionate about food and those who are passionate about social change but the two don’t always overlap. Do you think they should?

ND: Yes, and that is exactly the conversation we’re hoping to have here tonight. How do we use passion for food as a means to work together and develop a concept about sustainability and access to food for everybody?

HnS: Oxfam is known for its international focus, so it’s interesting to hear you focus on a local scale…

ND: At Oxfam we do tend to be international in scope, but the things we care about apply to all. As a mother and someone who loves food I know the issues are the same no matter the context. It’s about finding healthy, nutritious food and enough of it. Parents trying to feed their children couldn’t be more universal- whether they’re from Brighton or Ghana!

HnS: This event honors and celebrates International Women’s Day. How are women leading the food justice movement?

ND: We believe that women everywhere are on the front lines of food justice issues. Whether it’s the innovators on the panel tonight who are talking about the local issues their fighting for (like access for immigrant populations and development of local farms) or our partner Anna from Tanzania, who is a farmer, women everyone are the innovators and the change agents. Whether it’s grain banks in Ethopia or food recovery in Boston, women are coming up with fantastic solutions.

HnS: What barriers are women facing, either globally or here in the US?

ND: In many places women are responsible not only for farming a small plot, but retching the water, taking care of the children, and tending to live stock. This might suggest they have quite a bit of power but in fact that’s not the case. Women produce most of the world’s food but have the least resources. Globally women shoulder an enormous burden but are discriminated against when it comes to accessing new farming techniques or credit- all the things that would help level the playing field.

It’s heart breaking to recognize that women, while they feed the world, are often the first to go hungry. When there’s less food and a choice to be made women and girls are the ones who get less to eat.

HnS: That’s really powerful, it feels like something every woman can relate to. When we think of our mothers, for example, we can see how they always put others first.

ND: Isn’t it? While I personally haven’t experienced this, in any significant way like having to make the choice between one of my children eating or not, the idea that any woman has to make the choice (or any person for that matter because it doesn’t just apply to women) is unbelievable. We live in a world where there truly is enough food to feed everyone, but one in seven people go to bed hungry every night because of these access and justice issues.

HnS: Is there a way for people who care about these issues, women and men reading this, to act on a local level to address them? If these ideas really speak to them how would you suggest they pay their passion forward?

ND: Our new campaign, GROW, is all about building a just and equitable global food system. How are we going to feed approximately nine billion people in 2050 and do it sustainability? That’s a global question that shouldn’t be a “them vs. us” issue- it’s not “either or” it’s “and.” It’s local and global. The conversation is beginning and this is a huge question that’s going to take every one’s resources and innovation. I would ask them to join the GROW and help us design the solutions, be innovative, and help us understand what the links between Boston and Cambodia are. We don’t have all the answers, but through having the conversation and having a lot of people engaged we think we can get to the answers. Hunger is a man-made phenomenon, and as we make the problem we can make the solution.

“Love Food, Hate Injustice”- Oxfam’s GROW campaign

In addition to Oxfam America and the Boston Oxfam Action Corps, “Feeding Boston, Changing the World" was hosted by Mass Climate Action Network, Slow Food Boston, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, Science Club for Girls, the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, and Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Delicious food was provided by Boston Kebab House.