Why ‘Rights Not Charity’?

The proliferation of institutionalized corporate food banking, private philanthropy, food banks, and other “emergency measures” originated in the United States and became permanent responses to poverty and food insecurity. This approach spread to Canada and since the mid 1980s has steadily advanced across Europe and other parts of the globe. 

Emergency solutions have never addressed the root causes of food insecurity. To the contrary, leaving the matter to charity exacerbates poverty by allowing governments and citizens to consider the problem solved, and to ignore income policies and human rights. This creates greater openings for the corporate capture of public policy and funding, further contributing to the downfall of the welfare state. The patterns of destructive policies that have taken hold in North America are being replicated without criticism in European Countries, and beyond. The structural issues that this alliance addresses are global.

Such analysis is currently missing, or not prominently understood, in the global movements for the right to food and food sovereignty. The Global Solidarity Alliance’s focus on “wealthy” countries, such as the Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, is a means to build a shared understanding among those in North America and Europe. Especially among those who are on the front lines and work alongside those most impacted by hunger and poverty.

Food is a human right recognized by international law

The ability to produce, access, enjoy and commune around food is a basic human need and a fundamental human right universally recognized under international law. All individuals, groups, and communities have the right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition, to determine the food system they want, and to have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food in a dignified, culturally acceptable, and sustainable manner. This is far from guaranteed in a food system premised on private profit and corporate lobbying, so we need movements to hold powerful actors accountable. The Right to Food can only be genuinely realized by including those most marginalized by damaging food systems in policy making. This requires multi-level advocacy and collaborative governance of social movements, national governments, and international mechanisms to protect people over profit.

Food charity is neither a dignified nor long-term solution to food insecurity

Food charity allows the public to feel good about their donations of money, food, and time, while providing governments with an opening to neglect their right to food obligations. Charity shifts attention away from structural issues and leads to superficial fixes which are neither dignified nor long-term. Charity provides short term relief, but in the longer term, people experiencing food insecurity continue to risk facing the chronic and multiple realities of poverty because underlying causes remain unaddressed. 

Calling the problem ‘hunger’ masks the structural factors that cause it: entrenched poverty, cuts to social programs, low-wage and insecure employment, defunded housing systems, and systemic debt. The language around hunger shapes public perception by prioritizing an ineffective and stigmatizing model of corporate charity and food aid. 

The ongoing social and economic oppression of politically and racially minoritized people in the global north and agricultural communities in the Global South lie at the root of food insecurity, lack of food sovereignty, and income inequality

Ongoing historical processes of economic greed and exploitation have produced disproportionate levels of poverty, immiseration and food insecurity along lines of race, gender, nationality and immigration status, sexuality, ability and other imposed categorizations [/groupings/differences]. White supremacist, patriarchal, misogynistic, anti-Black, colonial and capitalist systems of thought and economic segregation have led to entrenched food insecurity, income inequality and stigmatizing ‘welfare’ regimes based on stigmatizing notions of ‘deserve’. Industrial, monocultural agribusiness, and diets based on cheap staples, are being exported globally, driving further inequality in global South countries already caught in cycles of debt and economic instability following political interference by colonization and/or neocolonial development policies.

Under-regulated capitalism, neoliberal austerity policies, and persistent inequality lie at the root of food insecurity

The under-regulation of capitalism gives corporations access to policy making around food, including financial incentives for food waste redistribution to food banks. These programs have a huge financial incentive and benefit for corporations— yet do not challenge the models of production which lie at the heart of many health inequalities, while causing ecological destruction and denying many farmers an adequate livelihood. The political indifference of today’s wealthy class, and decades of welfare cutbacks, means that those living on the lowest incomes are unable to afford basic essentials for themselves and their families, perpetuating cycles of long-term poverty and exclusion.

Food waste and food insecurity are separate problems demanding separate solutions

While corporations’ profit-maximising values drive both household food insecurity and food waste, these two issues have different root causes that require very different solutions. Ultimately, corporate food waste is a symptom of a broken industrial food system based on overproduction and endless supplies of unhealthy (ultra-) processed foods. Food insecurity is a manifestation of poverty resulting from state violence and oppression, and corporate greed and public policy. Intertwining the two issues as food waste “solving” food insecurity both ignores their underlying structural causes and distracts us from long-lasting, preventative solutions informed by food, health and social justice.

Climate change presents a serious threat to global and domestic food security in our countries

The global industrial food system is deeply unsustainable and is a major factor in climate change, resource depletion, land concentration, biodiversity loss, and social instability that are already affecting the poorest worst. False solutions to address the climate emergency include the excessive focus on reducing food waste through charitable redistribution to charity, which simply manages problems rather than preventing them. Real solutions to environmental destruction lie in food justice and food sovereignty based on small-scale/regionalised production, genuinely fair trade and agroecology – which have the capacity to also address health inequalities and oppression across the food system. 

Food builds community

Food connects us to each other, within and across cultures. These connections create more livable and resilient communities, which can in turn reduce food insecurity. Healthy food systems based on the Right to Food could include subsidized produce markets and food hubs in all neighborhoods. It is often communities of color that take on the labor of providing food as mutual aid, when governments fail to do so. However, food-based, community-level solutions cannot replace the systemic change needed to address the root causes of  food insecurity: this requires a guaranteed income floor for all.