In a message addressed to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization’s 43rd Session, taking place in Rome the first week of July, Pope Francis called for “joint, multicultural action” on the part of all nations and organizations to aid starving millions worldwide and “eradicate the scourge of hunger.”

The Holy Father emphasized the necessity of avoiding conflict and opposition amongst those working to relieve hunger worldwide, calling for a holistic and multilateral approach.

“This requires governments, businesses, academia, international institutions, civil society and individuals to make a joint effort and leave aside petty logic and biased visions, so that everyone benefits and no one is left behind,” Pope Francis stated.

“It bears repeating time and again: poverty, inequalities, lack of access to basic resources such as food, drinking water, health, education, housing, are a serious offense to human dignity.”

The Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) for 2023 shows that the number of people worldwide experiencing severe food insecurity and requiring urgent food and livelihood assistance is increasing. The report indicates that over one-quarter of a billion people are facing acute hunger; soaring food prices were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and are still above 2019 levels due to the war in Ukraine.

According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing acute food insecurity jumped from 282 million at the end of 2021 to 345 million in 2022. As many as 50 million people were expected to begin 2023 on the brink of famine.

Pope Francis spoke of experts’ acknowledgement that the goal of “Zero Hunger” will not be achieved within the timeframe set by the international community and expressed concern that this “inability to meet common goals leads to the revision of programs that do not take into account the real needs of the people.”

Finding a Common Ground on Local Levels

In the United States, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles has made eradicating hunger a priority of his administration.

“We have been focused not just on food production, but also on distribution,” noted Quarles. “We began to look at the issue of food insecurity from a consumers’ point of view. We focused not just on the cause of hunger, but also how to address it while inviting area farmers to help.”

Quarles’ administration began the Kentucky Hunger Initiative in 2016, as a result of a finding by the University of Kentucky’s Nutrition Education Program that identified concerns about lawsuits associated with distributing meals with donated wild game at educational cooking classes for food bank clients.

In an interview with WPI, Quarles said, “The purpose of the Kentucky Hunger Initiative is to bring all aspects of food production together from farmers to grocery stores to chefs to school systems to nutritionists all over the state. Forty percent of food prepared in the United States ends up in the trash can. Our goal has been to reduce waste and get food to those in need.”

The primary goals of Quarles’ initiative have been increasing the volume of donated food to food banks and pantries; putting as much locally-sourced food into food banks as possible; and improving the infrastructure of food banks and pantries all over the state. Summer feeding programs in schools have thrived in recent years and Kentucky has gained a reputation as a leader on food insecurity.

Quarles voiced the same concerns expressed by the Holy Father in not reaching hunger elimination goals expediently and effectively on larger.

“Communication among groups working toward this common goal is essential,” said Quarles. “Being food insecure in rural Kentucky looks different than being food insecure in metro areas. Raising awareness is important, and we always celebrate our donations via news channels and educate local officials on how to serve those in need.”

“There is a stigma attached to being food insecure,” said Quarles. “Those facing hunger are embarrassed to ask for help; we need to change that perspective. Also, it is crucial that we work with our faith-based communities to make this work. Most churches already have an army of folks who are engaged in activities like backpack programs. Government officials need to work with their local churches; they are an invaluable resource.”

Image: Adobe Stock. By Max Barattini.

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Kristi McCabe is an award-winning freelance writer, Catechist, a former teacher and editor who lives with her family in Owensboro, Kentucky.  As an adoptive mother of four and an adoptee herself, Kristi is an avid supporter of pro-life ministries.  She is active in her local parish and has served as Eucharistic minister and in various children's ministries.

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