About a year ago,when I got to interview Jen Chapin (the late Harry Chapin’s daughter and a singer in her own right), I was struck by just how intelligent and complex her thoughts were about the things she cared about. One of those things is her late father’s organization to combat hunger: WHYHunger (formerly World Hunger Year). Ms. Chapin is on the Board of the organization and not in a “Hi, I’m Jen!” kind of way. Whether her intelligence shows in the organization, or the organization challenges her to think in such complexity is difficult to know, but WHYHunger has a newsletter which I have started subscribing to and it rocks. Called “Nourishing Change” it reads like The Nation meets Mother Earth News meets the New York Review of Books meets Congressional Quarterly or the Utne Reader. (They also have a connect blog that rocks as well, but is shorter).
Why is any of this important and what does it have to do with the rest of my life — or yours? I am, I think, like most people today, overwhelmed. I only have so much time, and so many causes I can think about at any one time. A while back, I thought, between ministry, therapy, writing, and thinking about things for each, my head would explode. I decided to focus on only a few topics: racism and — to relax, music. Music led me to Harry, Harry led me to food and hunger issues, which I thought was safe enough to avoid controversy. I mean really, who could be against people eating? Amazingly, like everything else I care about, the answer is surprisingly political, complex and connected. It turns out that intelligent life cannot survive on Facebook memes alone.
Memes are like do-it-yourself soundbites and they can spark interest in narrow topics. Since there are a million memes out there, there are a million issues to get involved with or overwhelmed by. The August edition of “Nourishing Change” sees the connection between food and justice. As I know the performing Chapins support any number of justice causes, I can see how this might come about.
Most of the connection comes down to this: where there is hunger, there is unrest. Put another way, when people are hungry, there will be problems. Included in this month’s issue is “What We’re Reading: The Movement For Black Lives Demands, including the right to healthy food and water”; “Hunger in Venezuela? A Look Beyond the Spin”, “Food security in north-east Nigeria”. “Reflections and Recommendations on Welfare Reform”, A short article on TANF restrictions which only exist for drug-related crimes. Have you heard of any of these issues? Well, yes, and no. They are the headlines of the future.
When people think about Black Lives, they think of a) crime or b) injustice. I know very little about Venezuela, but that its former President gave oil to Americans in the Northeast and people said it was a propaganda act. Food insecurity in Nigeria is how groups like Boko Haram or ISIS establish themselves — promising food to those who join or blaming hunger problems on nations like ours. In our election cycle, we hear talk of crime. If you wanted to increase crime, starving addicts and their families is a sure way to do it. There is also talk about immigrants, welfare, “welfare mothers”, and policies that work or don’t work. If there are refugees, they become immigrants. If there We talk about migrant workers and wage disparity.We talk about insurance costs and obesity. All of these issues might be non-issues today if people had food, and/or if politicians stopped trying to limit the food options of others around the world. This is today’s news that prevents tomorrow’s tragedy. WHYhunger knows about all of these things, long before mainstream press covers them.
Because they know about them, they can make choices that really impact the world. Because they share this information with grassroots organizations, they can help others — foodbanks, churches, growers, school systems, inner city justice organizations — make decisions that have impact as well. So, here’s the thing: you can read memes and respond to the events of the day after they happen and be overwhelmed or you can be a part of the movement to end hunger, feel a little more in charge of life, and make the world a little safer. If that second choice appeals to you, support WHYHunger, 505 Eighth Avenue, Suite 2100 New York, NY 10018, or check them out at www.whyhunger.org