By Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee
In the United States hunger, poverty, malnutrition and food deserts are linked together. What appears contradictory in our nation is that hunger, poverty and food deserts are also linked to obesity – a contributing factor for many chronic and life-threatening illnesses experienced by both the young and elderly.
Also inconsistent is how the level of poverty and wealth varies in the world. There are people in the world living somehow on $1.25 a day. In the United States, that same $1.25 a day would be equal to about $32.54. To a person living on $1.25, that $32.54 is barely conceivable as a possible daily income. But for the person living in the United States, that $32.54 means they have to make hard choices about food, shelter, clothing, transportation, hygiene, safety, education and health care – choices that interfere significantly with their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. A single adult living on an annual salary of $11,880 or as a family of four living on $24,300 in the United States requires a lot of sacrifice and causes great distress.
As the United Nation has set goals to eradicate poverty and eliminate hunger, there is recognition that filling one’s stomach does not eliminate the problem of hunger if the food is detrimental to health, and being employed does not eradicate poverty if the income for the work is insufficient. To truly end hunger there must be equal access to nutritious options and sustainable agriculture. To truly end poverty there must be better access to basic housing, health and education services and economic resources that are constructive, not predatory.
Food deserts are communities that lack access to nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables because they lack grocery stores or the residents lack the resources to afford or get to the healthy food options. These deserts exist throughout the United States but, thankfully, there are food pantries, churches, and community centers that serve as oases for residents in these communities by intentionally providing good options for unprocessed, fresh, natural food.
In March, 2o16, Edna Martin Christian Center in Indianapolis, IN, hosted Congressman André Carson of Indiana’s 7th District as he introduced Food Desert Bill HR 4833. He was motivated to introduce this bill because within one year five grocery stores closed in the low-income Indianapolis communities he serves and the loss was significant for those residents.
Edna Martin Christian Center (EMCC), an American Baptist Home Mission Societies Neighborhood Action Program Christian Center, was chosen because they are located in one of those food desert communities. But they were also chosen because they are a community center that provides healthy food options every week to the community residents. Tysha Sellers, the executive director of EMCC, is grateful for the healthy food EMCC can provide to residents but she is also advocating for grocery stores in the community because, as she says, “Edna Martin Center and food pantries are not a sufficient substitutes for the grocery needs of the community.”
The Food Desert Act through the Department of Agriculture would create new avenues to fund for-profit, non-profit, and municipally-owned grocery stores in underserved communities. It would also encourage the employment of residents of those communities. To learn more about this bill, visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4833.
There are beneficial and profitable solutions to hunger and poverty in our world. Most of those solutions revolve around an ethic of abundance rather than scarcity (well articulated by Walter Brueggemann and John W. Kinney) and an ethic that values the dignity and well-being of others. God has endowed us with the creativity to resolve hunger and poverty. May God heighten our collective conscience (or consciousness) to work together to do it.