Food is a right’ people’s assembly planned for Aug. 16 in Chicago

The first of eight goals set by the United Nations “Millennium Declaration” in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 was to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,” including reducing the proportion of people who experience hunger by 50 percent. Instead, an increase in malnutrition both in the U.S. and abroad has occurred. The result is increasing nutrition-related diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, due to poor food quality and disparity in food access. Half of the victims of food inequality are children.

In light of this crisis facing the working class and poor people here and around the world, the “Food is a Right People’s Assembly” will take place Aug. 16 during the afternoon plenary of the International Critical Dietetics Conference at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. International, regional and local participants are invited to speak, and the floor will be open for discussion and proposals for actions, including on the following four topics.

Stop all cuts to SNAP
and all government food programs

Another wave of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is underway, on top of the federal food stamp cuts that have already hit millions of people in the U.S. since November. States are reinstating work requirements and ending waivers, thereby allowing fewer people to qualify. But there are no jobs, especially at decent pay with benefits.

President Barack Obama signed the 2014 Agricultural Act in February, including $8.6 billion in food stamp cuts. SNAP is considered essential for addressing childhood hunger. The program is critical to struggling households, including families living below the poverty line, seniors, those living on Native American reservations and victims of natural disasters.

The Child Nutrition and WIC [Women, Infants and Children] Reauthorization Act, which authorizes all of the federal child nutrition programs — including the School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Child and Adult Care Food, Summer Food Service, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, and WIC food programs — is also under attack.

Affordable healthy food for all;
end food deserts

Families need more support for access to healthy food, not less. Food pantries across the U.S. and voluntary food programs around the world are no longer able to meet the growing needs. A report of the Chicago Food Depository estimates that 1 in 6 Chicagoans go hungry every day.

More than 860,000 people in Cook County, Ill., are unsure of when they will receive their next meal.

The report indicated the many faces of hunger:

  • 37 percent are children under 18
  • 9 percent are children under 5
  • 6 percent are homeless
  • 34 percent of households include at least one employed adult
  • 22 percent of households report their main source of income is from a job
  • 47 percent of households say they have to choose between paying for food and utilities
  • 44 percent report choosing between paying for food and rent or mortgage

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts. More than half of them (13.5 million) are low-income. Approximately 2.3 million people (2.2 percent of all U.S. households) live in low-income, rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket. White neighborhoods have on average four times as many supermarkets as predominantly Black and Latino/a ones do. With no other options, people living in food deserts get most of their meals from fast-food restaurants. The death rate from diabetes in a food desert area is twice that of areas with access to grocery stores.

Economic justice for food, agricultural & all workers,
including $15 minimum wage & the right to unionize

The real cause of hunger and health injustice is lack of good-paying jobs, with benefits and union representation. Currently, the struggle of low-wage workers for decent pay and working conditions is being led by courageous fast-food workers and agricultural workers, who risk support for their families with each strike and struggle.

The wealth of the food and agricultural industry in the U.S. was built on the backs of immigrant workers, many of whom are the most vulnerable due to their documentation status and collusion between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, growers and food producers. While transnational corporations are free to cross borders seeking the highest profits off low wages and exploitation of natural resources, we demand workers be free to seek work with no borders.

Hold the food industry & agribusiness accountable
for environmental & health problems

Underlying the exploitation of immigrant workers are the unfair trade agreements that are destroying local food economies around the world, forcing people everywhere to pay high prices for U.S. and Western food products. Along with processed U.S. imported food and fast-food chains come increased rates of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, in countries where they did not previously exist.

There is economic collusion between the U.S. government and the food industry, which is basically regulating itself. While there used to be thousands of meat processing plants across the U.S., for example, now only five dominate the market and set the standards for the world. Why can’t these huge corporations produce and market healthy food? They could easily wipe out hunger. But the goal of the food industry is not to feed people — it is to make a profit.

Food is used as a political weapon both at home and abroad to try to control whole populations. Denial of access to food programs for ex-prisoners in the U.S., for example, keeps them poor and permanently marginalized. In some states you cannot receive food stamps if you allow an ex-felon to live in your house. Sanctions have resulted in the destruction of generations of child health in countries the U.S. is trying to destroy or control. Only a mass movement can demand a turnaround of the damage to the environment, people’s health and the exploitation of our resources.

This is the goal of the Food is a Right People’s Assembly on Aug. 16. Those interested in food justice, ending hunger, workers’ rights and saving the environment are encouraged to come and help plan a united course of action.

For more information, email [email protected]