The Universality of Hunger

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Rivera, Hermes. “Real Talk.” Unsplash, 23 May 2017.

Hunger is a biological state that practically all humans experience in their lifetime, to varying degrees. In contemplating the experience of hunger, I was struck by the universality of the sensation. It is an issue that has persisted, unsolved and unchanged, throughout human history. On a global scale, an overwhelming range of complex forces and feedback loops are at work in perpetuating this simple biophysical sensation. We currently grow and produce enough food to satisfy everyone’s basic needs, and food waste statistics are difficult to stomach in the face of mass starvation, malnutrition and food insecurity.

Those of us who can experience hunger without the fear of starvation or prolonged pain have a rare luxury. Hunger can even be pleasurable, in the anticipation of a special meal. I find that hunger keeps me focused in certain situations. The idiomatic word “hangry,” a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry,” is a reflection of our society’s relative affluence and its accompanying sense of sufficiency. While we may get a little irritable when we miss a meal, we can laugh it off knowing the experience will be short-lived.

Advances are being made, but with so many factors causing and impacting hunger, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will bring about its end. Comprehensive programs like Fome Zero in Brazil are compelling and show a conscious incorporation of systems thinking. They account for many different causes and victims of hunger and food insecurity, supporting both consumers and farmers. A government and its citizens united in a powerful commitment to food justice, sharing the goal of ensuring that everyone in their community had what they needed. This model could be applied to other social-ecological systems where hunger and food security are threats. Hunger may be overwhelming in scale, but programs like Fome Zero make an impact on a local level.

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