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Hunger: Myths & Realities

Global Hunger | Hunger in the U.S.

11 Myths About Global Hunger

Published on 21 October 2011

There isn’t enough food to feed the world, most of the world's hungry live in Africa, and it's mostly a question of droughts and other natural disasters. All of these statements are wrong. But they reflect a common set of misconceptions on hunger. Here are 11 of the most common myths - with the reality they mask.

Myth 1: There isn’t enough food to feed the world.
Reality: There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life. There is, however, a need to be more efficient, sustainable, and fair in how we grow and distribute food. This means a) supporting small-scale farmers and b) making sure that food 'safety nets' are in place to protect the most vulnerable people from hunger.

Myth 2: Resolving hunger means ensuring people have enough to eat.
Reality: Hunger also involves the type of food you eat. Good nutrition means having the right combination of nutrients and calories needed for healthy development. It's especially important for infants, pregnant women and young children.

Myth 3: Droughts and other natural disasters are to blame for hunger.
Reality: Communities that build irrigation systems, storage facilities, and roads to connect them to markets are able to improve harvests. Then people can survive even during times of drought (Learn more). Nature is only one factor when it comes to hunger. The proportion of food crises that are linked to human causes has more than doubled since 1992. Conflict is often at the heart of today’s worst food crises.

Myth 4: Hunger exists when food is unavailable in shops and markets.
Reality: People can go hungry even when there's plenty of food around. Often it's a question of access - they can’t afford food or they can’t get to local markets. One way we can help is through cash transfers and electronic vouchers, which give people the ability to buy nutritious foods in local markets.

Myth 5: All of the world’s hungry live in Africa.
Reality: Of the world’s nearly one billion hungry, over half live in Asia and the Pacific (Hunger Stats). Hunger is also a relevant issue in the United States, where 50 million Americans are food insecure.

Myth 6: Too many people go hungry in my own country for me to worry about hunger abroad.
Reality: One in seven people in the world are hungry, which means one in seven people can’t create, study, or reach their full potential as human beings. That affects all of us. Hunger slows progress on other important areas that connect nations, including security.

Myth 7: Hunger and famine are not easy to predict and can't be prepared for.
Reality: Tools exist to monitor and predict trends in food production as well as food prices. For example, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) analyzes meteorological and economic factors to alert the world to the possibility of hunger hotspots and famine.

Myth 8: Hunger is basically a health issue.
Reality: This issue also affects education and the economy. Hungry children struggle to focus, learn, or even attend school. Without education, it's much harder for them to grow up and contribute to the growth of the national economy. A study in Guatemala found that boys who received fortified food before the age of three grew up to have wages 46 percent higher than those in a control group.

Myth 9: People are only hungry during emergencies or disasters.
Reality: Emergencies only account for eight percent of the world’s hungry. There are close to one billion hungry people in the world who do not make the headlines and yet they go to bed hungry every night. This is why long-term efforts like school meals programmes are so important.

Myth 10: There are more pressing global issues than hunger.
Reality: When populations are hungry, economies suffer, people fight, and farmers can’t grow their crops effectively. We need to tackle hunger to be able to resolve environmental, economic, and security issues.

Myth 11: There is nothing we can do to help hungry people.
Reality: There’s plenty we can do, even as individuals. Organizations like WFP need constant support and awareness-building efforts at the community level. You can help with that. Start where you are right now: online. Find us on Facebook and Twitter , and share our links to let your network know about the importance of hunger. And find out other ways to get involved here.

(This article was produced by the World Food Programme in conjunction with dosomething.org)

!2 Myths about Hunger

Summer 2006 Updated by Holly Poole-Kavana Why so much hunger? What can we do about it?
To answer these questions we must unlearn much of what we have been taught. Only by freeing ourselves from the grip of ­widely held myths can we grasp the roots of hunger and see what we can do to end it. Myth 1:
Not Enough Food to Go Around
Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - ­vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs - ­enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most "hungry countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products. Myth 2:
Nature is to Blame for Famine
Reality: It's too easy to blame nature. Human-made forces are making people increasingly vulnerable to nature's vagaries. Food is always available for those who can afford it - ­starvation during hard times hits only the poorest. Millions live on the brink of disaster in South Asia, Africa and elsewhere, because they are deprived of land by a powerful few, trapped in the unremitting grip of debt, or miserably paid. Natural events rarely explain deaths; they are simply the final push over the brink. Human institutions and policies determine who eats and who starves during hard times. Likewise, in America many homeless die from the cold every winter, yet ultimate responsibility doesn't lie with the weather. The real culprits are an economy that fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society that places economic efficiency over compassion. Myth 3
Too Many People
Reality: Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining regions of the Third World begin the demographic transition - ­when birth rates drop in response to an earlier decline in death rates. Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries, nowhere does population density explain hunger. For every Bangladesh, a densely populated and hungry country, we find a Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. Or we find a country like the Netherlands, where very little land per person has not prevented it from eliminating hunger and becoming a net exporter of food. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security. Rapid population growth and hunger are endemic to societies where land ownership, jobs, education, health care, and old age security are beyond the reach of most people. Those Third World societies with dramatically successful early and rapid reductions of population growth rates - ­China, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Cuba and the Indian state of Kerala - ­prove that the lives of the poor, especially poor women, must improve before they can choose to have fewer children. Myth 4:
The Environment vs. More Food?
Reality: We should be alarmed that an environmental crisis is undercutting our food-production resources, but a trade-off between our environment and the world's need for food is not inevitable. Efforts to feed the hungry are not causing the environmental crisis. Large corporations are mainly responsible for deforestation - ­creating and profiting from developed-country consumer demand for tropical hardwoods and exotic or out-of-season food items. Most pesticides used in the Third World are applied to export crops, playing little role in feeding the hungry, while in the U.S. they are used to give a blemish-free cosmetic appearance to produce, with no improvement in nutritional value. Alternatives exist now and many more are possible. The success of organic farmers in the U.S. gives a glimpse of the possibilities. Cuba's success in overcoming a food crisis through self-reliance and sustainable, virtually pesticide-free agriculture is another good example. Indeed, environmentally sound agricultural alternatives can be more productive than environmentally destructive ones. Myth 5:
The Green Revolution is the Answer
Reality: The production advances of the Green Revolution are no myth. Thanks to the new seeds, millions of tons more grain a year are being harvested. But focusing narrowly on increasing production cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power that determines who can buy the additional food. That's why in several of the biggest Green Revolution successes - ­India, Mexico, and the Philippines - ­grain production and in some cases, exports, have climbed, while hunger has persisted and the long-term productive capacity of the soil is degraded. Now we must fight the prospect of a ‘New Green Revolution' based on biotechnology, which threatens to further accentuate inequality. Myth 6:
We Need Large Farms
Reality: Large landowners who control most of the best land often leave much of it idle. Unjust farming systems leave farmland in the hands of the most inefficient producers. By contrast, small farmers typically achieve at least four to five times greater output per acre, in part because they work their land more intensively and use integrated, and often more sustainable, production systems. Without secure tenure, the many millions of tenant farmers in the Third World have little incentive to invest in land improvements, to rotate crops, or to leave land fallow for the sake of long-term soil fertility. Future food production is undermined. On the other hand, redistribution of land can favor production. Comprehensive land reform has markedly increased production in countries as diverse as Japan, Zimbabwe, and Taiwan. A World Bank study of northeast Brazil estimates that redistributing farmland into smaller holdings would raise output an astonishing 80 percent. Myth 7:
The Free Market Can End Hunger
Reality: Unfortunately, such a "market-is-good, government-is-bad" formula can never help address the causes of hunger. Such a dogmatic stance misleads us that a society can opt for one or the other, when in fact every economy on earth combines the market and government in allocating resources and distributing goods. The market's marvelous efficiencies can only work to eliminate hunger, however, when purchasing power is widely dispersed. So all those who believe in the usefulness of the market and the necessity of ending hunger must concentrate on promoting not the market, but the consumers! In this task, government has a vital role to play in countering the tendency toward economic concentration, through genuine tax, credit, and land reforms to disperse buying power toward the poor. Recent trends toward privatization and de-regulation are most definitely not the answer. Myth 8:
Free Trade is the Answer
Reality: The trade promotion formula has proven an abject failure at alleviating hunger. In most Third World countries exports have boomed while hunger has continued unabated or actually worsened. While soybean exports boomed in Brazil - ­to feed Japanese and European livestock - ­hunger spread from one-third to two-thirds of the population. Where the majority of people have been made too poor to buy the food grown on their own country's soil, those who control productive resources will, not surprisingly, orient their production to more lucrative markets abroad. Export crop production squeezes out basic food production. So-called free trade treaties like NAFTA and WTO pit working people in different countries against each other in a ‘race to the bottom,' where the basis of competition is who will work for less, without adequate health coverage or minimum environmental standards. Mexico and the U.S. are a case in point: since NAFTA we have had a net loss of over a million jobs here in the U.S., while Mexico has lost 1.3 million in the agricultural sector alone and hunger is on the rise in both countries. Myth 9:
Too Hungry to Fight for Their Rights
Reality: Bombarded with images of poor people as weak and hungry, we lose sight of the obvious: for those with few resources, mere survival requires tremendous effort. If the poor were truly passive, few of them could even survive. Around the world, from the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico to the Landless People's Movement in South Africa, wherever people are suffering needlessly movements for change are underway. People will feed themselves, if allowed to do so. It's not our job to ‘set things right' for others. Our responsibility is to remove the obstacles in their paths, obstacles often created by large corporations and U.S. government, World Bank and IMF policies. Myth 10:
More U.S. Aid Will Help the Hungry
Reality: Most U.S. aid works directly against the hungry. Foreign aid can only reinforce, not change, the status quo. Where governments answer only to elites, our aid not only fails to reach hungry people, it shores up the very forces working against them. Our aid is used to impose free trade and free market policies, to promote exports at the expense of food production, and to provide the arms that repressive governments use to stay in power. Even emergency, or humanitarian aid, which makes up only eight percent of the total, often ends up enriching American grain companies while failing to reach the hungry, and it can dangerously undercut local food production in the recipient country. It would be better to use our foreign aid budget for unconditional debt relief, as it is the foreign debt burden that forces most Third World countries to cut back on basic health, education and anti-poverty programs. Myth 11:
We Benefit From Their Poverty
Reality: The biggest threat to the well-being of the vast majority of Americans is not the advancement but the continued deprivation of the hungry. Low wages - ­both abroad and in inner cities at home - ­may mean cheaper bananas, shirts, computers and fast food for most Americans, but in other ways we pay heavily for hunger and poverty. Enforced poverty in the Third World jeopardizes U.S. jobs, wages and working conditions as corporations seek cheaper labor abroad. In a global economy, what American workers have achieved in employment, wage levels, and working conditions can be protected only when working people in every country are freed from economic desperation. Here at home, policies like welfare reform throw more people into the job market than can be absorbed - ­at below minimum wage levels in the case of ‘workfare'­ - which puts downward pressure on the wages of those on higher rungs of the employment ladder. The growing numbers of ‘working poor' are those who have part- or full-time low wage jobs yet cannot afford adequate nutrition or housing for their families. Educating ourselves about the common interests most Americans share with the poor in the Third World and at home allows us to be compassionate without sliding into pity. In working to clear the way for the poor to free themselves from economic oppression, we free ourselves as well. Myth 12:
Curtail Freedom to End Hunger?
Reality: There is no theoretical or practical reason why freedom, taken to mean civil liberties, should be incompatible with ending hunger. Surveying the globe, we see no correlation between hunger and civil liberties. However, one narrow definition of freedom - ­the right to unlimited accumulation of wealth-producing property and the right to use that property however one sees fit - ­is in fundamental conflict with ending hunger. By contrast, a definition of freedom more consistent with our nation's dominant founding vision holds that economic security for all is the guarantor of our liberty. Such an understanding of freedom is essential to ending hunger.

Institute for Food and Development Policy Backgrounder
Summer 2006, Vol.12, No. 2

Myth One:
There is not enough food and not enough land.

. Measured globally, there is enough to feed everyone. For example there is enough grain being produced today to provide everybody in the world with enough protein and about 3000 calories a day, which is what the average American consumes.
Myth One: There is not enough food and not enough land.

But the world's food supply is not evenly distributed. Those who have much accumulate more, while those who have little edge toward starvation. In most countries with widespread hunger, a few large landowners control nearly all agricultural production sometimes with disastrous results. Much rich farmland remains unused, or one harvest is gathered per year when there could be two or three. Land is used for "cash crops" such as cotton or coffee instead of food. To the owners, land becomes an "investment" not a source of food for the people who live on it.

Myth Two:
There are too many people to feed.

Contrary to popular belief, overpopulation is not the cause of hunger. It's usually the other way around: hunger is one of the real causes of overpopulation. The more children a poor family has the more likely some will survive to work in the fields or in the city to add to the family's small income and, later, to care for the parents in their old age. Myth Two: There are too many people to feed.

All this points to the disease that is at the root of both hunger and overpopulation: The powerlessness of people who must rely on food that is grown and distributed by wealthy people who have never felt hunger pangs, yet who determine how the land will be used, if at all and who will benefit from its fruits. High birth rates are symptoms of the failures of a social system - inadequate family income, inadequate nutrition and health care and old-age security.

Myth Three:
Growing more food will mean less hunger in poor countries.

But it doesn't seem to work that way. "More food" is what the last 30 years' War on Hunger has been about. Farming methods have been "modernized", ambitious irrigation plans carried out, "miracle" seeds, new pesticides, fertilizers and machinery have become available. But who has come out better off? Myth Three: Growing more food will mean less hunger in poor countries.

Farmers who already have land. money and the ability to buy on credit - not the desperately poor and hungry. In Pakistan for example a farmer must have at least 12.5 acres of land to get a loan from the Bank: but this excludes over 80 percent of Pakistan's farmers! Who else benefits? Moneylenders, landlords, bureaucrats, military officers, city-based speculators and foreign corporation - as the value or the land goes up only the rich can afford to buy the farming land. Small farmers go bankrupt or are bought out. Human energy and imagination can be organized to turn a desert into a grain field. This can be done - we have the know-how. When land is in the hands of the people who live and work on it , they are more likely to be motivated to make the land more productive and distribution of food more equitable thus benefiting all peoples.

Myth Four:
Hunger is contest between rich countries and poor countries.

To many Americans the hungry world is seen as the enemy who in Lyndon Johnson's words, "aint what we got". But hunger will never be eliminated until we recognize the poor of Bangladesh, Colombia, Senegal as our neighbors. Rich or poor we are all part of the same global food system which is gradually coming under the control of a few huge corporations. These giant businesses grow and market food for the benefit of those people who have money which means primarily people in North American and Europe. Myth Four: Hunger is contest between rich countries and poor countries.

Poor people in the Third World market pay food prices that are determined by what people in rich countries are willing to pay. This is direct cause of hunger in many poor countries. On the other hand, people in rich countries are unaware that their own consumption is creating suction force in the world food market, diverting food from meeting the needs of the very people who have grown it. In both rich and poor countries farmers, workers, consumers feel the impact of this system of international control, through artificial shortages of certain products, through high food prices, through poor-quality goods. Even in countries like the Unite States and Canada, small farmers find themselves unable to afford the machinery that need to keep their farms running well. Older people on small pensions even in the United States and Canada, find themselves unable to afford the food they deserve.

Myth Five:
Hunger can be solved by redistributing the food to the hungry.

Over and over we hear that North America is the world's last remaining "bread basket." The rich world's over consumption and wastefulness are endlessly compared with the misery of the poor.

True. Adapting a simpler lifestyle helps us to understand our interrelatedness with all people and less wastefulness is better stewardship. But neither" one less hamburger a week". Nor massive food aid programs, will eventually solve widespread starvation and poverty in the poorest nation. People will only cease to be poor when they control the means of providing and /or producing food for themselves. Myth Five: Hunger can be solved by redistributing the food to the hungry.

We must face up to the real questions: who controls the land? Who cultivates it ? A few. Or all who need to? What will be grown in poorer nations - strawberries to export to the tables of the well-fed in the United States or basic grains for local consumption? How can control of the land get back into the hands of the people who need it? Who influences the distribution of food? How can people be enabled to provide food for themselves?

Myth Six:
A strong military defense provides a secure environment in which people can prosper.

But who feels secure on and empty stomach? The extraordinary investment the world makes in armaments annually (currently $900 billion) ensures that few funds are available for agricultural and economic development and shows that those who decide how a nation's money is spent are not intimately acquainted with the violence of hunger. Myth Six: A strong military defense provides a secure environment in which people can prosper.
The security of countries both great and small, depends first of all in a population that has enough food, enough jobs, adequate energy and safe, comfortable housing. When a society cannot provide these basics, all the guns and bombs in the world cannot maintain peace.
This article is based on material by
Frances Moore Lappe' and Joseph Collins, co-authors of
Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, and World Hunger: Twelve Myths

Global Hunger Current estimates are that 700 million people in the world, more than the entire population of the western hemisphere, do not get enough food for an active and healthy life. World Military & Social Expenditures 1986 Each year 40 million people die from hunger and hunger-related diseases. This figure is equivalent to more than 300 jumbo jet crashes a day with no survivors, almost half of the passengers being children. GAIA : An Atlas of Planet Management Each year 15 million children under age 5 die - 1/4 of all the world's deaths. Up to half of those who survive suffer malnutrition severe enough to leave them with non-reversible damage. Understanding the Presbyterian Hunger Program We could save many of the world's children at an overall cost of $5 each through programs promoting immunization breast-feeding , rehydration therapy (which counteracts diarrhoea) and improved child care generally. GAIA : An Atlas of Planet Management Poverty and Plenty. In the Northern Hemisphere malnutrition takes the form of over - consumption of sugars, fats and animal products resulting in obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In the US alone, at least 1/3 of those aged over 40 can be classified as obese. In 1982, the UK spent 235 million on slimming aids - compared to just 50 million donated to private aid agencies. GAIA: An Atlas of Planet Management One person in 5 in developing countries is undernourished; one in 5 in major industrialized countries is overweight or obese. World Military & Social Expenditures 1986 Each child born in the industrialized world will consume 20 to 40 times as much as a child in the developing world in his or her lifetime. So small population increases in the rich world, put 8 times as much pressure on world resources as larger population increases in the poor world. Understanding the Presbyterian Hunger Program

Hunger in the U.S.
In America more than one out of every five children is poor. Almost 2 out of every 3 poor children are white. Nearly half of all black children in America are poor. Nearly 2 out of every 5 Hispanic children are poor . More that half of all children in female-headed families are poor. Children 's Defense Budget 1986 Hunger is a problem of epidemic proportions across the US. While no one knows the precise number of hungry Americans, available evidence indicates that up to 20,000,000 citizens may be hungry at least some period of time each month. 1/3 of the agencies in the US experienced an increase of 100% or more in the number of hungry people coming for help between 1982-83 while a significant portion of the agencies saw increases of over 200% in that one year alone. Some 71% of the soup kitchens and food pantries reported that private charity cannot meet the need for food assistance in the local communities. Physician Task Force on Hunger in America Produced by the Office on Global Education, National Council of Churches, 2115 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218-5755
A program of the Divisions of Education and Ministry, and Church World Service


  • Bread food the World, (revised 1984) Arthur Simon, Paulist Press, New York

  • A Children's Defense Budget, 1986 children's Defense Fund, 122 C Street NW, Washington DC 20001.

  • Food First, 1979 Frances Moore Lappe' and Joseph Collins, Food First Institute for Food & Development Policy, 1885 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

  • Food for Beginners, 1982 Susan George % Nigel Paige, Writers & Readers Publishing Cooperative Society Ltd., 144 Camden High Street, London LWI ONE. England.

  • GAIA : An Atlas of Planet Management, 1984 Dr. Norman Myers, editors Anchor Press/Doubleday & Company Inc., New York.

  • Hunger in America : The Growing Epidemic, 1985. Physician Task Force on Hunger in America. Harvard University School of Public Health.

  • Understanding the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Distribution Service, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 905, New York. New York 10115.

  • World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 1986 Frances Moore Lappe' and Joseph Collins, Food First. Institute for Food & Development Policy, 1885 Mission Street , San Francisco. CA 94103.

  • World Military & Social Expenditures, 1986 , Ruth Leger Sivard, World Priorities. Inc,. Box 25140. Washington DC 20007.

updated: 23 April, 2014