FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Economy of Hunger

by RICHARD MANNING

Missoula, Montana.

One of the many ironies of our time is that no news is strictly local. Corporate culture’s homogenization leaves me free to tell a quirky little story about my town and be fairly certain it is relevant in yours, even if yours is Palencia, Guatemala.

The poor, and therefore the hungry, have always been with us, so it would seem there is no news in this matter. Nonetheless, a group of well-meaning folks assembled itself recently in my town, Missoula, Montana, with the straightforward mission of eradicating hunger here.

One would think it to be an easy enough task. Missoula has a lively economy, affluence and a deep-seated progressive streak immune to the smear of red that has so stained the rest of the region. So in true progressive tradition, we saw this as simply a matter of rolling up our sleeves and getting on with it.

After all, most of us have seen the hungry, the shuffling homeless under the interstate bridges. There didn’t seem to be all that many of them, and they didn’t look as if they would eat all that much.

But the people who had been doing the actual work of collecting and distributing food to the poor for years in this town were quick to inform us that stereotypes are simply wrong.

It has become increasingly difficult to work at small-town food banks because often one knows the client not as a beggar from beneath the bridge, but as a neighbor or colleague. Food banks today cater increasingly — and a sociologist’s survey of our town bore this out — to people who are employed, the class we now call the working poor.

These people earn so little they barely get by. Catastrophic medical bills or Missoula’s escalating housing costs can chew up their inadequate paychecks so that by the end of the month there is no money left for food.

If we are to really do anything about the shameful matter of hunger in our town, we must address these larger issues. What at first looked like a little hole to plug now appears to be a bottomless chasm, ever widening.

There is something fundamental buried in all of this: where these people work. Many of them, report the food bank people, work full time for minimum wage and no health insurance at the ring of chain stores that has suburbanized this once unique mountain town. The big-box retail business has exploded in Missoula, making us a regional market center, part of the cause of our prosperity. That is, hunger is increasing in our town not in spite of our healthy economy, but because of it.

Hunger in America is no longer a matter of falling through the cracks, of happenstance and misfortune. Hunger has been institutionalized as a part of the economic fabric, including especially the business of selling food.

There is a mirror image that extends this story to the developing world. The New York Times recently reported, “Across Latin America, supermarket chains partly or wholly owned by global corporate goliaths like Ahold, Wal-Mart and Carrefour have revolutionized food distribution in the short span of a decade and have now begun to transform food growing too.”

Simply, small subsistence farmers are unable to sell to the chain stores because they cannot meet the stores’ conditions. At the same time the big companies are murdering the local markets that used to sell the farmers’ products.

“The stark danger is that increasing numbers of them will go bust and join streams of desperate migrants to America and the urban slums of their own countries,” the Times reported.

Look for some of them, coming soon to a food bank near you.

RICHARD MANNING is the author of several books, most recently Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization. He is a member of the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kansas.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail