Food banks and food pantries have proliferated in response to an economic emergency. The loss of manufacturing jobs combined with the recession of the early 1980s and Reagan administration cutbacks in federal programs led to an explosion in the growth of food charity. This was meant to be a stopgap measure, but the jobs never came back, and the “emergency food system” became an industry. In Big Hunger, Andrew Fisher takes a critical look at the business of hunger and offers a new vision for the anti-hunger movement.
From one perspective, anti-hunger leaders have been extraordinarily effective. Food charity is embedded in American civil society, and federal food programs have remained intact while other anti-poverty programs have been eliminated or slashed. But anti-hunger advocates are missing an essential element of the problem: economic inequality driven by low wages. Reliant on corporate donations of food and money, anti-hunger organizations have failed to hold business accountable for offshoring jobs, cutting benefits, exploiting workers and rural communities, and resisting wage increases. They have become part of a “hunger industrial complex” that seems as self-perpetuating as the more famous military-industrial complex.
Fisher lays out a vision that encompasses a broader definition of hunger characterized by a focus on public health, economic justice, and economic democracy. He points to the work of numerous grassroots organizations that are leading the way in these fields as models for the rest of the anti-hunger sector. It is only through approaches like these that we can hope to end hunger, not just manage it.
About the Author
Andrew Fisher has worked in the anti-hunger field for twenty-five years, as the executive director of national and local food groups, and as a researcher, organizer, policy advocate, and coalition builder. He has led successful efforts to gain passage of multiple pieces of federal food and nutrition legislation.
“If you don’t understand why anti-hunger groups hardly ever advocate for higher wages or public health nutrition measures for low-income Americans, see Andy Fisher’s analysis: they owe too much to their food-company donors. Big Hunger is a call to action, one well worth heeding.”
—Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University; author of Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)
“In this groundbreaking work, Andy Fisher details America’s approach to rising hunger, and lays bare a modern Orwellian irony: The big food companies whose labor practices have spurred hunger now receive credit—tax, media, and otherwise—for supporting charities to address it. It's an invaluable read.”
—Tracie McMillan, author of the New York Times Best Seller The American Way of Eating
“Big Hunger is arguably the most important book on the American food scene in a decade. A decade ago, the food scene was rocked by The Omnivore's Dilemma. Now we must face a Charitable Dilemma.”
—Wayne Roberts, author of The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food
“Andy Fisher charts how the good intention to end poverty has metastasized into an industry that keeps 50 million Americans hungry. No one is spared in this searing analysis, from corporations to foundations to food banks. If hunger is to be ended in America, the unholy coalitions that currently frustrate, ignore, and try to contain attempts for radical change will need to be blown apart. Big Hunger is a book to burst that bubble.”
—Raj Patel, Research Professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin; author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System
“If you are an anti-hunger activist, you should read Big Hunger. It may make you mad, and it will definitely make you think. Hopefully, it will catalyze some long overdue and much needed conversations among various wings of the food movement.”
—Jan Poppendieck, Senior Fellow, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute; Professor Emerita of Sociology, Hunter College