Consider the words attributed to St. Francis, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible and soon you will be doing the impossible.” I am convinced that we have given hunger too much credit for being unstoppable. We have allowed its bravado, its size and scope to convince us we can’t beat it. Hunger comes with an intimidation factor, and as a result we’ve given Hunger the permission to bully us into appeasement. We use words like “alleviate” instead of “eliminate;” we will talk about it terms of acceptable percentages and numbers of children and seniors who will go hungry in our state instead of discussing hunger in terms of a zero sum game.
The Food Bank Council of Michigan and our statewide network of member food banks are finished being bullied by hunger. We are amassing a team of strategic partners who are determined not only to see hunger retreat, but rather ensure every person in our state becomes food secure.
First, what is necessary? We start by acknowledging that 23 percent of people in Michigan are food insecure, and this is unacceptable. We start by manufacturing the political and personal will to stand up to hunger with the determination to enable all who need food to receive it. The primary reason we should take on the large intimidating problem of hunger is because we can. We can and we should. There is a clear moral mandate for no child, senior or anyone in between to ever go hungry in Michigan. The moral argument for food security dwarfs the argument to do nothing. I echo Sir Edmund Burke who said, “The worse mistake anyone ever makes is when they choose to do nothing because they think they can only do a little.”
We will do what is necessary because we can. We have the will and the means to do it.
Secondly, we will do what is possible. Possible? Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state in the United States. Our variety and quantity of nutritious food are more than ample to meet the needs of our residents. First and foremost, hunger is an access problem. In our state we have communities that are scarce of food, traditionally termed “food deserts,” and we can now flood these areas with food resources, education and help solve the access problem. Our partnership with the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, for example, allows us to share high nutritional value food paired with cooking demonstrations, tastings and recipes for fresh produce. By delivering this program through mobile distribution sites, we are ensuring access to nutrition for Michigan’s food insecure population.
FBCM members serve all 83 counties and, today, we are delivering more pounds of food than ever in our history. Why is this? Although Michigan’s economy is improving and our unemployment rate is decreasing, many of those who have achieved steady income still aren’t bringing in enough to make ends meet. For example, a working parent now has childcare to consider. The cost of certain bills are enough to drive the family under water financially. They require food banks to help keep them afloat and their families fed.
When I first accepted the position of executive director at the FBCM, a person said to me, “So you are going to end hunger in Michigan – well I want you to know that hunger is NOT merely an access problem but when you take on hunger, you will get poverty, structural racism, education, and housing, all for free.” She was correct.
Food security is only a part of the answer to ending hunger. While that is the focus of the FBCM and our members, we also recognize that the right public-private strategic partners working together to address the needs of our clients will achieve the impossible. This is why the FBCM is developing a model of collaboration to address not only access to healthy nutritional foods but also ensure our residents have access to every tool they need to achieve the life they desire. This may seem impossible to some, but not to us. In the meantime, partnering with Congress to ensure the passage of the Child Nutritional Reauthorization Act is a pivotal move in our efforts to serve Michigan.
Food security is not beyond us; it is not bigger or better than us. If we work smarter via collaboration, gather enough support and maximize our resources, we will end hunger and create a food secure Michigan.
Phillip Knight is executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan.
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