Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, is an avid believer that a democracy that can empower its citizens to become involved in providing the community’s life essentials may be just want society needs to address the urgent issue of hunger.
In Brazil, Belo Horizonte, the fourth largest city, is an example of a
community that has involved its citizens in the design and
implementation of a new food system. Motivated by statistics such as 11%
of the population living in poverty and 20% of the city’s children
going hungry, mayor Patrus Ananias launched a new “food-as-a-right”
policy, which focused on food security for all. Initiatives such as
allocating public space for the sale of fresh produce from local farmers
helped address the interests of farmers as well as the public. Farmers
were able to bypass costly wholesaler and distribution costs, while
being offered prime retail space in urban areas. The public, in turn,
has easy access to inexpensive, high-quality, locally-grown foods.
Today, 34 “ABC” markets – “food at low prices” – exist in Belo
Horizonte. The city is involved in setting below-market prices for about
20 foods offered at these markets, presenting shoppers with low-cost
options of locally-grown, healthy, fresh products. Vendors are allowed
to sell all other products at market prices. In order to secure a spot
at an “ABC” market, the farmers must also commit to transporting and
offering their produce to poor neighborhoods outside of the city center.
Other initiatives that stemmed from the “food-as-a-right” policy
were: the creation of “People’s Restaurants,” serving about 12000+
people each day with 50-cent meals made from locally-grown foods,
facilitating the development of urban gardens throughout communities and
schools, and educating the public about nutrition and food prices.
Additionally, federal funds spent on school lunches are now allocated to
local farmers, versus processed, packaged foods.
In most communities, public policy is currently ineffective in
addressing issues surrounding the food supply and hunger, but Belo is an
example that solutions exist when communities and government work
together in mutual respect. Adriana Aranha, former manager within the
Belo city agency that administers the “food-as-a-right” policy, states,
“We’re showing that the state doesn’t have to provide everything, it can
facilitate. It can create channels for people to find solutions
themselves.” (Yes Magazine)
In Belo, the unified effort of the community has been a strong
foundation for this public effort to end hunger. This concept of
community and supporting each other’s food needs is innate in human
nature, and it is only during the last few thousand years that we’ve
converted to a more selfish disposition. The city’s initiatives now
benefit about 40% of the city’s 2.5 million inhabitants, while costing
it only 2% of its annual budget. Aranha adds, “Everyone in our city
benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or
education—quality food for all is a public good.” (Yes Magazine)
Here in the United States, the richest country in the world, in 2010,
about 15% of households in the US, or 1 in 7, were “food insecure”, and
almost 1 in 5 children are at a risk of hunger (worldhunger.org). In the US, the National School Lunch Program offers low-cost or free lunches to 31 million children each day (USDA). Yet, about 96 billion pounds of food is thrown out by retailers, restaurants and households in the US each year (USDA). And as the economy deteriorates and food prices rise, this will become an even more pressing issue.
In the complex and well-populated world that we live in today, it is
difficult to find solutions to basic problems such as hunger, and even
more difficult to balance private sector interests with government
influence into ‘free’ markets. Perhaps an example can be taken from Belo
Horizante where the government simply opened some doors and empowered
local farmers to meet the needs of the community.
This article was originally published on WakingTimes.com.