Freedom From Want: Advocating for the Right to Food in the United States

Freedom From Want: Advocating for the Right to Food in the United States

Eleanor Roosevelt, Wikimedia Commons

WhyHunger.org – The right to adequate food and nutrition is both a call to action and a global legal framework for coordinated reform in food and agriculture. In the U.S., we often speak of our civil and political rights (such as the right to vote or the right to be free from police harassment), but less often about our economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to affordable housing or the right to clean water). Perhaps that is one reason why we are experiencing the worst income inequality and highest concentration of wealth in this country since the Great Depression.

And yet, despite our lack of investment in a rights-based framework, the U.S. had a hand in promoting right to food as a phrase to be included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In his Four Freedoms speech, given as a part of the State of the Union address almost 80 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Freedom of speech and worship were already protected in the U.S. Constitution. By including freedom from want and freedom from fear, he was doing something truly radical, endorsing economic security and social rights. He was also acknowledging a tension between the American ideal and the reality; the rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on the one hand, and a history of slavery and racial discrimination on the other. The Four Freedoms were later incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, as chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The current state of food insecurity and the strategies for addressing hunger in the U.S. are a far cry from the vision the Roosevelts invoked on the eve of the establishment of the United Nations.  With the growth of more than 60,000 private charitable organizations distributing food to tens of million of people in need while public social security unravels, Americans are not guaranteed the freedom from want.  And so, we continue to advocate.

By Alison Cohen, WhyHunger, and Denisse Córdova Montes, University of Miami Human Rights Clinic


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