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
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail