The Hunger in Our Midst

I was hungry and you gave me food

Matthew 25:35

Food is necessary for our survival and flourishing. The gathering and sharing of food is a fundamental aspect of community. It is the way we show manaakitanga or hospitality to each other. It is the way we show aroha or love.

For many, it is an increasing struggle to put food on the table.

Food is the result of God’s gift and human effort – fruit of the earth and work of human hands. Turning wheat seeds into bread, or growing any other food we depend on, is the result of an interdependent chain of natural forces and human work.

In the world 925 million people go hungry. In many countries, hunger means malnutrition, increases in child deaths, stunting and poor cognitive development. Hunger is both a result and a cause of poverty. People who live with constant severe hunger find it difficult to focus on much more than daily survival. Hunger of this kind is brutal because people are unable to achieve their potential as human beings in fundamental aspects of their lives, such as education, community, and spirituality. Competition for food can lead to conflict.

Food security is the ability to legitimately access safe and nutritionally adequate food. Food insecurity means being uncertain about where the next meal is coming from or not having access to nutritionally adequate food. Food insecurity creates enormous stress, especially for parents.

In New Zealand, 33.7 percent of the population live with moderate food security and 7.3 percent live with low food security. This means children arriving at school hungry with nothing for lunch, or families having inadequate diets. People who don’t have enough money often have no choice but to live on cheap carbohydrates and fat – like bread and margarine - which lack protein and essential nutrients, leading to health conditions such as diabetes. In developed countries like New Zealand, obesity can be a manifestation of hunger.

The Church and Catholic organisations, parishes and religious communities respond to hunger in many different ways. This ranges from the immediate response of feeding the hungry in the shape of international aid during emergencies or through food banks and soup kitchens in New Zealand. It also includes longer term work such as advocating that people receive an income sufficient to feed their families and international development programmes that help communities to have more control over growing their own food.

Authorities ranging from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to the World Bank agree that currently there is enough food being produced in the world to feed everyone. We have the capacity to maintain food production in an environmentally sustainable way. Hunger in our world in our time is not so much a result of production as of distribution.

The political solutions proposed to better distribute food range from improving trade and market mechanisms to improving social safety nets.

In considering our response as Catholics to hunger and food insecurity, a key principle of Catholic social teaching is the Universal Destination of Goods - God intended the goods of the earth to be used and enjoyed by all people. When the accumulation of wealth and goods by some sectors of the community deprives others of what they need to survive, we have to tackle the systems that perpetuate these inequalities.

Food is not merely a commodity; access to food is a human right. Food cannot be treated simply as any other product because people depend on food for survival. Food should not be subject to speculation, resulting in price swings which have immediate impacts on the lives of the poorest.

Resolving hunger and food insecurity requires political will and commitment at international, national and local levels. It requires more than dismissive answers which categorise hungry children in struggling households solely as their parents’ responsibility.

If there was just one hungry household in a wealthy country, we might feel entitled to consider it a problem to be solved at an individual level. But when food-insecure households are found in New Zealand among those receiving wages as well as among beneficiaries, and hungry children are found at schools from Northland to Southland, community and structural responses are also required.

Our participation in the Eucharist demands that we address the needs of people in the world who do not have what they need to survive, including those in our own country. “A Eucharist that does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented”

Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, 2012

John Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
President, NZCBC

Patrick Dunn
Bishop of Auckland
Secretary, NZCBC

Denis Browne
Bishop of Hamilton

Colin Campbell
Bishop of Dunedin

Charles Drennan
Bishop of Palmerston North

Barry Jones
Bishop of Christchurch

Peter Cullinane
Emeritus Bishop of Palmerston North