Food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens were created in response to an economic emergency: the closing of plants and the loss of manufacturing jobs in the 1980s. They were meant to be a stopgap measure to help newly unemployed union workers -- but the jobs never came back, recession caused further economic damage, government cutbacks in human services increased the number of people in need, 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 by focusing on food charity in isolation, and by institutionalizing the voluntary efforts of the private sector, Fisher argues, they have neglected to address the root causes of hunger -- income inequality, public health, and economic decline. Reliant on corporate donations, anti-hunger advocates have failed to hold business accountable for off-shoring jobs, cutting benefits, and resisting minimum wage increases. They have become part of a "hunger industrial complex" that seems as self-perpetuating as the more famous military industrial complex.
Fisher describes the ways that some of the anti-hunger community has adopted a broader approach to food insecurity, emphasizing income inequality, sustainable food systems, and nutrition. He showcases the work of several innovative organizations that are experimenting with such initiatives as policy advocacy, community development, and alliances with workers. It is only through approaches like these that we can hope to end hunger, not just manage it.