Hope for the End of Hunger
An interview with Jenny Dyer on hope and resilience in the fight against hunger.
Posted Nov 08, 2019
Is it possible to end world hunger? The new book The End of Hunger: Renewed Hope for Feeding the World (IVP Books), edited by Jenny Eaton Dyer and Cathleen Falsani, makes the case that what once seemed unthinkable is now within reach. With 23 contributors ranging from celebrity chef Rick Bayless to musician Amy Grant and Senator William H. Frist, this interdisciplinary volume explores current facts and figures as well as action steps to inform and inspire Christians to engage in the gospel work of feeding the hungry and eradicating global hunger.
I had the opportunity to interview co-editor Jenny Dyer, founder of The 2030 Collaborative through which she directs the Faith-Based Coalition for Global Nutrition, with support from the Eleanor Crook Foundation. She has written widely on the intersection of religion and global health and offered her insights on the intersection of mental health, resilience, and hunger, as well as action steps we can take to help end global hunger.
JA: This book has dozens of contributors from a variety of fields. Why this interdisciplinary approach?
JD: Zero Hunger is the second of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN to achieve by 2030. If we are going to reach that goal, we need all hands on deck—including a wide variety of creative and genius minds—to examine the issue from multiple viewpoints. We need the moral imagination of artists, politicians, scientists, policy experts, leaders on the frontlines, nutritionists, chefs, and economists to contribute ideas of how we can join together to end hunger both in the U.S. and around the world. We sought to do just that with this book. We welcomed the passion and the perspectives of leaders who think about and are concerned with the belief that every person deserves the right to good nutrition. The book then reads as an interesting patchwork of writing styles, tones, and diction across the various authors. This makes both for good reading and good education of this important issue.
JA: How does malnutrition and hunger impact mental health and resilience?
JD: The End of Hunger begins with this question of how hunger impacts a person physically, cognitively, and psychologically. In his section, Mike McHargue, better known as Science Mike, addresses “Hunger and Your Brain” to talk about what it actually feels like to live with chronic hunger and starvation. It is debilitating, and it is undignified. It is a state of being that deprives one of being able to function in society, contributing to a cycle of poverty.
We dedicate an entire section of the book to describe the critical importance of the “First One Thousand Days” of a child’s life. From conception to the second birthday, we know that if the mother and the child do not receive proper interventions of folic acid, iron, micronutrients, proteins, breastfeeding, and other vitamins, the child will experience both cognitive and physical stunting that is irreversible. Stunting has long-term effects, including less schooling, poorer job opportunities, and chronic illnesses across the lifespan. One in four children around the world live with stunting. This is unacceptable. With simple interventions in low-income areas, proper nutrition could be the lynchpin to move families, communities, societies, and indeed nations out of extreme poverty.
JA: How might psychology be used to help address hunger and poverty?
JD: Understanding and employing moral psychology in particular is key for advocacy. And that is the goal of this book! We want Americans across all political, religious, racial, and gender divides to get involved in the campaign to end hunger by letting their member of Congress know that they care about hunger and malnutrition, and they care about protecting and increasing funding for global nutrition in the U.S. global health account. (This funding represents a fraction of the 1% of the U.S. budget dedicated to foreign assistance funding.)
To motivate groups to action, I have been turning to Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) and his use of moral psychology as a guide. When speaking to a more conservative audience, I highlight the authority of scripture (more than 2,000 verses charging Christians to care for the poor), the loyalty to Christian leadership among our Faith-Based Coalition for Global Nutrition who serve on the frontlines of advocacy for hunger and food security, and the sanctity and dignity of all humans made in the image of God who deserve access to food and a cup of cold water, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 25. And for a more liberal audience, I might emphasize the care and concern to uplift mothers and children who are affected most by hunger and extreme poverty as well as the fairness of sharing resources so that all have the opportunity for a healthy life. During these turbulent, polemic times, it is so important we use all skills, including psychology, to communicate effectively shared goals of complex issues like hunger.
JA: Where do you find hope in the fight against global hunger?‘
JD: Since 1990, the U.S. has led the world in a combined effort worldwide to cut in half the number of people living with hunger. Then, about 23 percent of the world’s population lived with hunger; today it is less than 13 percent. We are halfway there. We are halfway to ending hunger, extreme poverty, and a number of preventable, treatable diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. We are halfway to ending the deaths of children under the age of five. And, we are halfway to ending maternal mortality issues. Each of these global health and development issues has a root in hunger. Our generation has made epic strides to uplift the world’s poorest. But we need the political will and support to finish what we started.
We have the science, and we have the infrastructure. We need sustained voices from our communities to support the leadership of Congress to continue to champion the funding for these most important issues.
JA: What are the action steps that people can take today to fight against global hunger?
JD: We recommend three steps. The first is prayer and meditation. Everyone needs the wisdom to figure out how they can play their best role in this work to address hunger, locally and globally. The second is philanthropy. We encourage folks to get involved with the amazing groups who have boots on the ground in your city and around the world to address malnutrition and food security. Give your time. Give your money—even if it’s just a modest amount, every penny counts. And the third is to commit to advocacy. Go to house.gov or senate.gov and find your member of Congress. Simply email them and let them know that you care deeply about the world’s poorest, and you support their leadership to champion funding for global nutrition in the global health account.
It takes so little to do so much. One voice has the power to save the lives of millions.