Food Drops or Financial Aid ... What Most Helps the Hungry?
By Patrick Winn

For more than 30 years the University of Iowa football team helmets have displayed “ANF,” meaning, “America Needs Farmers.” Since 1985, Willie Nelson and friends have annually produced the Farm Aid concert in selected venues for the benefit of credit-challenged family farms.

But most newspaper headlines and the minds or mouths of cable news shows, pay little attention to agricultural concerns, the part of the American economy that once dominated our economic, political and school agendas.

Quick: name the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.*

What’s missing is not a glance to see if the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye by the fourth of July, but rather an understanding of the complex role of agriculture in society. One recent commentator identified infrastructure as the missing ingredient in feeding a world that will grow to 9.6 billion inhabitants by 2050.

Driving around Chicago it’s difficult to appreciate a national shortage of highways, railroads, trucks and supermarkets. But countries are still developing food distribution systems with vehicles and roads that are substandard or non-existent.

Our State Department reports that over 30 percent of food grown in developing countries is either not delivered to consumers or is spoiled upon arrival. In Africa, 50 percent of the people are not able to access farmers’ produce. That effectively limits the amount a farmer can afford to grow for sale, which in turn limits the quantity available for others to purchase.

This is not simply an esoteric academic subject looking for a doctoral candidate in search of a dissertation topic. The United Nations estimates that millions will die of starvation or the effects of malnutrition over the next 22 years.

Ironically, the so-called 1970’s Green Revolution freed up disposable income as the cost of food came down. As tastes developed for exotic or tailored foods, more people were able to procure a diverse diet even as they relied on basic wheat and rice.

Across Illinois, 75 percent of the land is devoted to agriculture. But feeding a state that is losing residents does not have the same sense of urgency as needing to produce as much food in the next 25 years as has been produced worldwide since organized farming began 10,000 years ago.

We already produce more than enough food to eat. More than 2,700 calories per person per day are produced. The problem: getting food to hungry people.

Putting all those concepts together is why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has advised concerned citizens to make financial contributions to organizations engaged in food distribution, rather than gathering a truck- or shipload of food to send off to be received, stored, skimmed and finally delivered months later to a starving population. What arrives is rotted, spoiled food and only a fraction of what was shipped. The bulk of the product has entered a black market, a point of no return for starving consumers.

America and Americans need farmers. So does the rest of the world.

Next month’s column will be devoted to the agricultural supply chain and the corruption that keeps people hungry.

*Sonny Perdue