by George McGovern, Bob Dole, and Donald Messer, with a forward by Bill Clinton. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8006-3782-8. Pb.,114 pp. $12.00
These are the facts: More than enough food is produced to feed every man, woman and child on the planet. We have technology sufficient to deliver that food to all those people. Given some tweaking of priorities, there is global capital available to pay for this food and its delivery. Alleviating hunger will contribute toward inhibiting the spread of AIDS, reducing poverty, and diminishing the discontent that creates an environment conducive to war and terrorism. Every major world religion places a significant emphasis on feeding the hungry. More than 850 million people worldwide are malnourished, among them approximately 300 million school-aged children, another 100 million young mothers, infants, and pre-school children, and 7 million citizens in the United States of America; 210,000 persons die each week of starvation and malnutrition.
These empirically verifiable pieces of data lead to a set of profoundly disturbing questions: How can we allow this to be? Why are there so many hungry people today? How can there be so much apathy in the lives of the well fed? Why aren’t people of faith obsessed with ending hunger?
These questions, once asked, demand our attention and a response. This book is a response.
It is full of practical wisdom about how to deal with hunger: Begin with women and children; they’re the most vulnerable and are likely to gain the greatest benefit. Connect hunger programs to education. Make personal commitments to attend to our eating practices and link them to spiritual practices like saying grace and fasting. Involve us and our faith communities in groups working to alleviate hunger. Reach out to others and get them involved. Learn from organizations like the United Nations, economists like Jeffrey Sachs, and scientists like Norman Borlaug, all of whom have made enormous contributions toward ending world hunger.
In the first three chapters, each author lines out his perceptions of the problem of hunger, what he has been doing about it, and what he recommends the rest of us do. Commendably, each of them brings his expertise and political perspective forward but none lose sight of the larger, shared goal, nor of the importance of working together to achieve it. Following those chapters is a dialogue among the three that largely reiterates their earlier points; and a concluding chapter by Messer on what readers might do having read the book. And as if the do-something point of the book were not clear enough, Fortress Press has established a Web site, www.endinghungernow.org , with further details on the book and how to participate in organizations and projects that combat world hunger.
So the driving question, “How can we allow this to be?” turns out to be rhetorical. The authors don’t want to answer it so much as highlight that we should not have to ask it. Perhaps this is the greatest limitation of the book: the question may not be answerable, per se, but it certainly deserves reflection. Missing from the book, then, is any sustained theological reflection on sin and hope.
However, in a short book that isn’t meant for reflection so much as instigation, that absence is forgivable and what is present–namely, a call to action–is commendable. If a former seminary president and two well-known and widely respected senators can get us to do something about hunger, this book will have served its purpose.
Mark Douglas is associate professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga.