God Gave Us Abundance. Why Do People Go Hungry? | Sojourners

God Gave Us Abundance. Why Do People Go Hungry?

A Ukrainian serviceman holds a gun while walking through a burning wheat field.
A Ukrainian serviceman walks on a burning wheat field near a frontline on a border between Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, on July 17, 2022 as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues. REUTERS/Dmytro Smolienko

Just after this article was published, I learned that Ron Sider, a tireless proponent of peace and justice, had died at 82. His book Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger had a profound effect on my own life and faith journey. I dedicate this piece to him; may he rest in peace and love. –Adam Russell Taylor

We serve a God of abundance, a God who intends for everyone to “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The prophet Isaiah exhorts his listeners to respond to God’s abundance with acts of justice and compassion, including sharing our food with all who hunger and dismantling systems that produce hunger in the first place (58:7). Our own access to wholeness and abundance is explicitly tied to seeking the wholeness of others.

Proclaiming God’s abundance feels counterintuitive in a world filled with excruciating and growing hunger: In the United States, long-standing food deserts, racial inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a broken social safety system are all contributing to a growing crisis of hunger. Globally, at least 140 million people are currently affected by a dire food crisis; 49 million people are just one step away from famine conditions.

The causes of this mounting crisis are complex: Food prices rose steadily over the past two decades but exploded in 2021 due to COVID-19’s impact on migratory laborers, shipping, and industrial supply chains. Extreme weather events driven by climate change and political conflict — including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — further exacerbated the problem.

Nevertheless, abundance is a critical place to start because it changes how we think about this complicated problem. As the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) reports, there is enough food for everyone. Though unchecked climate change could threaten our abundant food supply by the end of the century, the current crisis we face is not simply about how much food the world produces, but is also about how it is distributed. While millions of people face famine, 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted each year. And that’s a moral and political problem that requires personal and collective change.

One recent example of this distribution problem: Together, Russia and Ukraine make up about 30 percent of global wheat exports, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain stuck in storage. On July 22, Turkey and the U.N. helped broker a deal with Russia that would have allowed shipments of Ukrainian grain to leave the port city of Odessa. But less than a day later, two Russian missiles struck the port, casting serious doubt on whether exports will be able to safely resume. This precarious situation illustrates the degree to which conflict and geopolitics can profoundly disrupt access to food.

What can we do to end this growing crisis?

As Rev. Tim Costello recently pointed out, the Bible is full of stories about God’s people responding to famine, including Joseph, “the wise Egyptian administrator” whose careful distribution of food kept several nations alive during a five-year famine. Similarly, in Acts 11:27-30, we see the disciples respond to a predicted famine throughout the Roman Empire. Just as the “disciples determined that each would send relief, according to their ability, to believers living in Judea,” wrote Costello, executive director of Micah Australia and a Sojourners board member, so do “we have the resources, according to our ability, to send relief.”

I’m grateful for the leaders and policy makers who are actively coming up with bold solutions to redress the current crisis: Our allies at the SDG2 Advocacy Hub — a coalition of groups working to end hunger — proposed a robust set of policy interventions at this year’s Group of Seven summit, a meeting of seven leading industrial nations. The hub’s recommendations included immediate measures to save lives — such as securing sufficient funding for the UN’s World Food Program, ensuring that grain and fertilizer are able to leave the port of Odessa, and opposing bans on these vital exports — as well as longer-term strategies to avoid similar crises in the future: helping smallholder farmers in the global South boost food production, rolling back mandates that require fuel providers to offer fuel made of food (such as corn), and expanding research to identify the right policies and interventions to prevent food loss and waste.

In June, G7 nations committed an additional $4.5 billion toward food security, with more than half that amount coming from the U.S. This is a positive step, but still far short of what groups like the SDG2 Advocacy Hub say is needed to end the global hunger crisis. “The G7 are talking about a total of $14 billion to fight the food crisis. But this is nowhere near the $21.5 billion that the World Food Programme needs this year alone,” Stephan Exo-Kreischer, director of ONE Germany, told Reuters. Ending this crisis will require much greater leadership from G7 nations in addressing global food insecurity, which means citizens need to generate greater political pressure, including in the United States.

In addition to using our voices to advocate for these and other policy changes, we can also support organizations that take practical action to combat hunger, including by building bonds of pragmatic solidarity between farmers in the United States and struggling subsistence farmers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. One inspiring example is Growing Hope Globally, which builds partnerships between farmers, congregations, communities, and their allies, helping more than 2 million farmers escape hunger and provide for their own families. As the organization’s president and CEO, Max Finberg, recently shared with me: “For almost twenty-five years, we have used food as a tool for hope. Even though the current picture is bleak, those we serve and those who support us have hope for a future without hunger.”

Finberg then pointed me toward Matthew 25, where Jesus says: “I was hungry and you gave me food.” Hunger looks a bit different today than it did in Jesus' day. Now the food is stuck at port, held hostage by war, and jeopardized by climate change. Fresh fruit rots in some of our fridges, but never makes it to low-income neighborhoods. Runaway inflation raises the cost of food in ways that exacerbate hunger. The hunger may look different, but the question remains the same: Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food? Our individual and collective response to Jesus’ timeless question will determine whether we can realize a world free of hunger.