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ELCA World Hunger

Four Ways COVID-19 May Impact Hunger


Since 2015, undernourishment around the world has been on the rise, after years of decline. In the latest estimates from the United Nations, more than 820 million people are undernourished. Even as we face the clear and present threat of coronavirus, we need to remain aware of the ongoing, persistent threat of hunger around the world. The current pandemic is revealing and exacerbating long-standing disparities – in income, access to health care, and social mobility. As the disease continues to spread, and as governments take steps to avert it, what might be the consequences for hunger?

Here are some of the things to keep an eye on when it comes to hunger in a pandemic.

Food Prices

What do we know?

One of the reasons we have seen rises in hunger in the last 10-15 years is volatility in food prices. In 2007-2008, for example, prices for wheat, corn and rice reached new highs. Milk and meat also spiked. This increased vulnerability to hunger in many countries. Some countries were harder hit than others. India, for example, saw an increase in wasting (low weight for height) among children. Fourteen African countries also experienced civil unrest over high prices, as did Bangladesh and Haiti. The research suggests that the biggest impacts of the price crisis were felt particularly among low-income groups. Some analysts also argue that the food price crisis may have contributed to the Arab Spring protests that erupted in the early 2010s.

What should we be watching?

One of the main concerns about COVID-19 early on was that both the disease and the government responses to it may cause a spike in food prices. This could be the result of infections preventing people from working in agriculture or in processing, restrictions on trade, and stockpiling[1] of food, all of which can reduce supply. As supply decreases and demand increases, of course, prices rise. If this were to happen in the midst of a pandemic, when many folks are also vulnerable to infections that can keep them from working, we might see a spike in global hunger, especially for those whose income leaves them vulnerable already. At particular risk are farmworkers, particularly field workers, many of whom are at increased risk of infection because of a lack of sufficient protocols for safety. As the agricultural industry is impacted, many of these workers may face reduced pay or reduced opportunities for work, both of which can leave them vulnerable to poverty, hunger and increased infection, especially as they pursue work in unsafe settings or under-regulated industries.

What are we seeing so far?

There’s good news and bad news. We aren’t yet seeing spikes in food prices. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) tracks food prices by month, and the latest data for March 2020 didn’t show significant increases. That’s good news. Also, this year is looking to be strong for harvests of wheat and some other cereals. That’s also good news. The price spikes earlier this century were often accompanied by droughts that caused down years for crops. So far, that isn’t the case in 2020. The biggest concern for now is that restrictions on trade and mobility might create a situation friendly to higher prices.

The bad news is actually in the other direction, with prices falling. In the US, many farmers rely on restaurants and stores to purchase their produce. With the closures of these businesses and direct-to-consumer markets, farmers face a challenging environment for selling their crops. The CARES Act included an allocation of $9.5 billion to help support them through the USDA.

Farmers in other countries face similar challenges. With markets closed or closing and developed economies slowed or retreating, prices for exports and commodities are moving down. This could create long-term problems for people in agriculture. In developing countries, where the share of the labor force dependent on agriculture can reach well above 50%, this is a significant problem. See below for more on exports this year.

Health Care Costs

What do we know?

Medical out-of-pocket costs are a significant driver of poverty in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, medical out-of-pocket costs were responsible for adding about 8 million people to the number of people living in poverty in 2018. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank estimated that in 2010, 800 million people spent 10% of their household budget on health care, and about 100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty because of health care costs. For many, the choice to seek medical treatment is a choice between paying for care and paying for other needs, such as food.

The relationship between health and hunger is kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, malnutrition can lead to significant health problems, such as hypertension, anemia, coronary heart disease, and diabetes. Based on what we know so far about COVID-19, this leaves people who are hungry at greater risk of severe symptoms from infection. As people get sick, they are more likely to miss out on income and thus less able to afford food and other necessities. When they aren’t getting enough food, they are more likely to get sick. It’s a vicious cycle.

What should we be watching?

Without access to a sufficient, stable healthy diet, people who are already vulnerable to poor health will be at heightened risk from COVID-19. Moreover, in many areas, communities with high rates of poverty and hunger also have limited access to health services, particularly the kinds of specialized services that are needed to treat severe symptoms of COVID-19.

One of the ways to measure access to health care services – and along with that, the ability of a country to mitigate a pandemic – is the number of health care professionals within an area. In developed countries, the number of medical doctors per 10,000 people can be as high as 20-40. The number of medical doctors in developing countries can be lower than one per 10,000 people. Disparities exist within other needed professions, as well, such as pharmaceutical personnel and nursing and midwifery personnel. The combination of undernourishment, low numbers of medical workers and a severe pandemic is a serious problem.

The other concern is that even if they have access, people living on the edge of extreme poverty may not be able to afford health services. It’s difficult to measure the number of people who have health coverage for essential services, but based on their research, WHO and the World Bank estimate that more than half of the world’s 7.3 billion people lack this coverage. That’s a lot of out-of-pocket expenses for many of the people who can least afford it.

For these and other reasons, ELCA Advocacy is working to ensure that the next COVID-19 funding bill in the United States includes additional funding resources in international assistance to ensure effective global responses that will protect all of us here in the United States and around the world.

What are we seeing so far?

Treatment for the kind of severe symptoms COVID-19 causes doesn’t come cheap. A 2005 study of 253 US hospitals (a bit dated, certainly) found that the average cost of mechanical ventilation for patients in intensive care was as high as $1500 per day. Without insurance, affording treatment will be out of reach for many people. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2018, more than 28 million people in the US lacked health insurance. This coverage is not evenly distributed, either. Of the wealthiest households (with incomes above $100,000 per year), less than 5% are uninsured. Of households with the lowest income (less than $25,000), more than 13% are uninsured.

Moreover, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 33 million people in the US do not have paid sick leave from work. As the Pew Research Center notes, while this has improved overall, with many workers gaining this benefit in recent years, lower-income workers are still less likely to have it. These workers are also less likely to have the financial resources to weather a major health crisis.

The long and short of it is, at this point, we don’t have a ton of verifiable data to draw conclusions about the health care impact of COVID-19 on hunger. But we do have enough information to reiterate the importance of the health projects supported by ELCA World Hunger. These projects, including hospitals and clinics, maternal and child health care, psychosocial support for mental health, vaccinations, and more, are effective ways of accompanying communities toward well-being – and building resilience to health crises. As “unprecedented” as the COVID-19 pandemic is, it is worth remembering that safety from contagious, deadly infectious diseases is not evenly shared by all. Outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, and MERS, and the ongoing pandemic of HIV/AIDS have impacted many of us and our neighbors just in the last ten years. Typically, it is the poorest households that are disproportionately impacted.

Loss of Livelihoods

What do we know?

Poverty is responsible, according to the FAO, for about half of the undernourishment around the world. Reducing poverty and achieving sufficient, sustainable livelihoods for people is critical for ending hunger. Tremendous progress has been made on this front in recent years, with poverty declining in much of the world over the last 30 years. In East Asia and the Pacific, for example, poverty has declined from about 60% in 1990 to less than 3% in 2015. Much of this decline is because of economic growth. Sadly, of course, this doesn’t mean that inequality has eased. A rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats, so there is still quite a bit of poverty within countries, even as the rates overall have come down. The growth also hasn’t been even between countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen an increase in poverty during the overall global decrease.

What should we be watching?

The effect of sickness on income was already mentioned. But as many folks have said, the attempts to slow the virus will have their own consequences. One of the big ones will be loss of livelihoods, at least temporarily. What we are keeping an eye on here in the US is, of course, the jobs reports and the unemployment rate. Globally, we will be looking at similar things, particularly in industries like tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. In agriculture, especially, much of the work is timebound. It’s difficult to catch up on a season once it passes.

What are we seeing so far?

The numbers in the US aren’t good. The federal government has expanded unemployment coverage, and the number of applicants so far is astounding. According to the most recent (April 9) release of weekly unemployment claims by the US Department of Labor, more than 6.6 million people filed claims in the first week of April continuing the trend from the previous week and bringing the total number of people filing claims to more than 16 million. On a graph, the increase of late looks like a sharp right turn:

In the US, the March 2020 jobs report showed a loss of over 700,000 jobs. The biggest losses were in leisure and hospitality.

Internationally, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has reported some significant price decreases for commodities so far this year. As developed countries emerge from closures related to COVID-19, it will take some time for their economies to come back. At the same time, some developing countries are only at the beginning of the process of managing the pandemic. This could mean a long road back for exports and commodities. To put it simply, with weakened prices for exports and commodities, it may be a while before industries such as agriculture, processing and mining recover.

Social Safety Nets

What do we know?

Social safety net programs are government-funded programs that provide assistance to people during times of need. These can include benefits that allow people to buy food, cash assistance, subsidized medical care, and more. In the US, major safety net programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and others. These programs are critical supports in times of crisis.

SNAP is one of the more commonly used social safety nets. It provides people in need with money to purchase food during the month. The average benefit nationwide is about $130 per person per month. SNAP is one of the most effective social safety nets. The US Census Bureau estimates that, in 2018, SNAP helped keep about 3.2 million people out of poverty. During the Great Recession, increases to the program helped stabilize the Supplemental Poverty Measure calculated by the US Census Bureau. This helped keep people out of poverty.

What should we be watching?

Federal legislation in response to the pandemic has authorized increases in funding for some of the social safety net programs, like LIHEAP and WIC. For others, some of the requirements have been waived. For example, the CARES Act has waived the requirement for a woman to by physically present to apply for WIC. This will allow more people to apply while keeping themselves and their families healthy. The expansion of LIHEAP will help families maintain their utilities and use needed money for other necessities.

The big question right now is, will the social safety net do what it is intended do, namely prevent a short-term crisis from becoming a long-term situation of need for individuals and families?

The ELCA is working through ELCA Advocacy to encourage the US Congress to increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent during the duration of this emergency to ensure households have enough resources to avoid the hard choice of choosing between paying for their bills or for food.

What are we seeing so far?

SNAP was a big piece missing from the legislation. The Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, received a boost in funding, but this was not for an increase in benefits. Rather, it was to help cover the costs of what is expected to be a rise in eligible participants. So, the allocation will allow more people to participate, but it won’t necessarily provide the increased funding per person that we saw during the Great Recession. Advocating for this in future legislation is important. Again, it was SNAP increases, more than other government transfer programs, that contributed to increased jobs and reduced poverty during the recession, according to the Economic Research Service of the USDA.

Globally, the World Bank found in a 2018 study that less than 20% of people in low-income countries have access to social safety nets of any kind. Without access to public programs during crises, it is likely that COVID-19 will take a significant toll on many communities’ resilience to poverty and hunger. This will likely deepen the divide between higher-income and lower-income people within countries, as some will have the means to weather the pandemic while others may not.


The COVID-19 pandemic points to the importance of addressing hunger at the root causes. It also highlights the many ways that the burdens of crises are often not evenly shared, globally or within an individual country. The pandemic also brings into sharp relief the need for cooperation and coordination between business, nonprofits and government. Food banks and pantries have stepped up to meet immediate needs. Farmers have supported this by donating produce – at a cost to themselves. And the federal government’s legislation related to the pandemic will provide critical support.

This will be a long road, and it will require a lot of effort, particularly in advocacy with the communities most affected. To stay up-to-date on legislation and ways you can help, sign up for ELCA Advocacy action alerts at In worship and in your devotions at home, remember those who are affected now and those who may be affected in the future. And stay healthy. There are many lessons for us in this situation, but one of them is clearly just how much we need one another.





[1] Stockpiling is different from “hoarding.” Stockpiling here means countries or other large entities purchasing large amounts of commodities as a security against scarcity. This isn’t the same as a shopper buying a lot of toilet paper or canned soup.

A Bicycle and a Vegetable Garden

Sunday afternoon I heard a snippet of talk radio in which the host spoke about what he believes is the coming of higher food and oil prices. For those of us who listen to the news or read the paper this topic may come as no surprise. What struck me about the radio snippet was the tone. It was so fearful and induced fear in me as I listened, even for a moment.

I changed the station.

I began to think about the feeling I got from what I heard and my reaction to it. I started to think, “Okay what if oil and food prices rise? How can I think about it in a way that is empowering, that gives hope, and is grounded in love, not fear?”

Here is my over-simplified answer: a bicycle and a vegetable garden.

Is it convenient for me to ride a bicycle to work? Not at all. Is it possible? Absolutely. When I studied abroad in college I rode my bicycle to school almost every day. It took about 20 minutes and it was so fun. Everyone rode their bike, so you always had friends to travel with, plus it was great exercise. I suppose high oil prices could easily pay me back in good health.  (Did you know that some cell phones can even be powered by the energy created from bicycling?)

Now, have I grown my own vegetables lately? Not since the junior high school bean sprout project. Could I grow my own vegetables? Happily. Over the last year I have read about the sprawl of urban gardening. Although I could plant vegetables in my back yard, I am impressed with how many creative places people are gardening these days. Flower pots on their apartment’s balcony, community gardens, rooftop gardens, you name it. If I planted my own pea patch this year, I could save a few bucks by growing my own organic veggies.

Now, I realize that higher food and oil prices affect far more things than just my vegetables and gasoline. It is a complex issue and this is my very simplified response. The point I am trying to make is that I find it heartening to respond to fear with hope. To look at it from a different angle and to consider the gifts that God has given us in Creation. How can caring for the earth; using its resources sustainably, sharing with my friends and treading more lightly by bicycling or walking, actually cause positive change? How can we approach an issue with a solution that is responsible, sensible, and not fearful?

I suggest we take a minute to look at a situation from all perspectives and consider the solutions that are steeped in faith, hope and love.

What Not to Eat


I recently watched the documentary Food Inc. and it blew my mind. This documentary goes deep into the United States food industry to show viewers where our food actually comes from. This movie aimed to show how the way food is grown and produced is hidden from consumers, and the realities of the origins of everything we eat shocked me.

One point the documentary argues was that our food comes from what we picture in our mind to be a typical American farm. The film states that much of our food does come from farms, but large corporations often own the animals on those farms, and thus have the power to control how our meat is grown and produced. The result of this is overpopulated farms, with animals living in unhealthy conditions (both for them and for us once we eat them!). Cows are fed corn when they are meant to eat grass, leading to a build up of E. coli in their system, which then is cleaned with ammonia. Chickens are grown in a manner that leaves them too large to walk. Also, many people who work in food producing factories are mistreated and underpaid, and the farmers who grow the food often end up with debt from standards that the corporations force them to uphold. Food Inc. argues that this system is harmful to our animals, our health, and the people who work hard to put food on our tables.

Another important topic the documentary discussed was the government’s relationship with the food industry. The government heavily subsidizes corn, wheat and soy, which can be harmful to our health, especially for those in poverty. Food Inc. points out that we can buy a double cheeseburger for 99 cents, but we cannot buy broccoli for this price. They argue that the reason for this is that calories in the double cheeseburger are cheaper due to heavy government subsidies.

The documentary goes in depth on many other issues related to the food industry, and toward the middle of the film I began to wonder if there was anything in the refrigerator that I would be able to make myself for dinner! Thankfully, they showed success stories of farmers and producers who grew their products organically and safely and still were profitable. They stressed the importance of buying foods grown locally to reduce your carbon footprint. They also discussed past successes in the food industry, such as the push from consumers that led Wal-Mart to stop selling milk products with rBST. They are confident that if consumers treat their dollars as votes, we will be able to tell the food industry what we expect from our food, and the system then will change to benefit our environment, our animals, our workers, and our health.

Food Inc. is an eye-opening documentary that depicts one point of view of the food industry, and I would recommend it to anyone. I learned a lot and now think about food in a different way. While it does give some suggestions about how you can have a positive impact on the food industry, I was still left with questions about how I should act on this issue, so if you watch it I suggest going to their Web site for more ideas. Also check out their blog.

So, I leave you all with some questions. Have you thought much about how your consumption affects your health, other human beings, animals and the earth? Has it changed how you eat? Do you have suggestions for those who wish to take action on these issues? I would love to hear ideas from all of you.

-Allie Stehlin

Ethics of Eating – as discussed in the Pacific Northwest

Recently, I attended the first regional “Ethics of Eating” Leadership Training in Region 1. The event took place at Campbell Farm, a 40 acre working farm also used as a retreat center. We flew into Seattle the night before and drove through green, pine covered mountains on our way to the farm. On the other side of those mountains we approached dull, brown mountains. Campbell Farm is in Yakima Valley, WA, a desert on the other side of those barren mountains. I was going to learn many, many things in this desert made fertile with irrigation waters.

We talked to both conventional and organic farmers, employers and employees, and observed the farming practices of the area. Our objective was to discuss the ethics of eating in a world where 1 in 6 people are hungry. We did this by educating ourselves on our own methods of food production and transportation, and exploring the conflict of the abundance of food and empty stomachs.

I’m still sorting through most of the information; however, I want to share with you the 10 things that stand out the most to me from this experience.


1)      The farm we stayed on was fairly small and had both an organic and conventional apple orchard. We asked Craig what was the difference between organic and conventional farming. He informed us that organic farmers ‘pull a heck of a lot more weeds.’ Herbicides are not allowed, making for a more labor intensive care of organic fields.

2)      We further questioned the differences between organic and conventional, knowing that pesticides were not used either. He explained that to keep pests away from organic foods they are coated, with fish oil. A vegetarian in the group was quick to question whether or not this information was required to be advertised on organic foods. I’ve never seen an organic food label announcing the use of fish oil, and it’s pretty common practice, along with the massive amounts of bug hormones used to keep moths from mating in organic fields.

3)      One reason the fish oil may not be considered a problem is that produce is rinsed in water and chlorine. While chlorine is not natural, the USDA has decided that it is necessary considering the manure used to fertilize the organic fields.

4)      Developing the composite is a lot of work, especially for organic fields; not only must it sit in the sun for weeks to get to a certain temperature, the manure used must come from organic animals. Ten thousand gallons of water are used on approximately one square mile of compost piled about a foot high. A lot of compost, but that’s a huge amount of water in a desert of all places!

5)      The amount of water used for irrigation is just phenomenal, enough to make a desert a fruitful place! In order to conserve water, some farmers received incentives to begin a ‘drip system,’ where a small hose lines the rows of crops and drips out water, as opposed to being doused by a sprinkler system. This greatly reduces the amount of water used; however, the water table level is greatly reduced as well. This means there is less water in local reservoirs, and more water will be needed out of the Yakima river, lowing river levels for fish, which is what was happening with out the drip system. What a cycle!

6)      You may think your kids are picky eaters, but we all, as consumers, are very picky eaters and because we are spoiled. An incorporated farm that we visited throws out 15,000-20,000 pounds of produce a day. Twenty thousand pounds of fresh food goes to waste every day during harvesting season because consumers like us don’t want to buy a yellow-bottomed cucumber. It doesn’t taste any different; it just grew on the ground the way cucumbers are supposed to grow!

7)      The greatest concern expressed by farmers was over production. Over production in a local and global community where some people do not get enough to eat does not sound like a problem to me. Both big and small farm owners admitted to letting produce rot in the field, which nourishes the soil, and keeps food prices from plummeting by not flooding the markets, however this keeps this food out of the food pantries that would distribute the produce to people in need. Yet another vicious cycle.

8)      Just down the road, Campbell Farms struggles to provide healthy meals to youth in the area whose parents are financially strained when it comes to groceries, buying limited, and often unhealthy, food. While our visit may have opened up the eyes of the incorporated farmer as to how these neighbors can help each other, how often is this happening in other communities, or in my own refrigerator?

9)      These kids who aren’t eating healthy food don’t look as though their not eating. That’s when I recognized the concept of nutritional starvation. Sure these kids eat, but they eat processed, fatty, high in calorie and low in nutrition foods. It’s all their families can afford, or know to eat, even with the abundance of fresh produce all around them.

10)  On top of nutritional concerns, farm workers are 70% more likely to get uterine cancer and 60% more likely to get leukemia. May be genetics, may be working conditions? The number one cause of death among farm workers is suicide.


To end on a better note, I’ll share another quick story. On a small 18 acre farm that we visited they were raising organic chickens. The pen they stayed in was a beautiful little piece of land, covered with apple and crab apple trees as well as tall grasses. Off in one corner we noticed a small circle enclosed by some fencing: chicken jail! Apparently, there is such a thing as a cannibalistic chicken; the three housed there ate eggs.

We obviously covered a wide variety of topics, specific to the region, but applicable nationally and globally. Enjoy the food for thought I’ve shared with you, and consider for yourself the “Ethics of Eating.”

A Glimmer of Hope in the Food Crisis

As I was driving to work this morning, I heard an interesting story on National Public Radio. It was about how the global food crisis is affecting Afghanistan, and it started predicatably enough with statistics and stories explaining how horrible things are. The price of flour has tripled in the past year and 2.5 million Afghans have been pushed into food insecurity. Afghanistan does not produce enough food to feed its population, and many are now relying on international food aid.

I just had time to think, “Interesting that they don’t produce enough food. They certainly have arable land. After all, they grow lots of poppies!” when the reporter addressed that very point. And here was the first shred of good news I’ve heard in relation to the food crisis. The Afghan Commerce Minister explained that in several provinces, farmers have begun replacing poppy crops with wheat crops. With higher prices and less competition from imports, Afghan farmers can now make a profit from wheat. What’s more, growing poppies is illegal and dangerous, so given a viable alternative, some farmers are happy to make the switch.

My train of thought went on to the broader implications. If higher prices and fewer imports are making wheat farming profitable in Afghanistan, what other countries might experience the same effect? For years developing countries have been unable to compete with cheap commodity crops exported from the United States. In the long term, will the food crisis help that situation? And if more countries grow more staple grains, will it improve global food security? None of this musing is meant to minimize the current crisis. It’s ridiculous that it takes starving people to bring attention and change to the way the world feeds itself, and it doesn’t mean necessary policy changes will be made. But it’s also nice to think that some good might come of the current suffering. So today I’m choosing to dwell on the bits of hope.

-Nancy Michaelis

Garment factories as role models?

I’ve decided to go out on a limb today. I’m writing about something I probably have no business writing about. I apologize in advance to all whom I offend with my ignorance, and I welcome your comments and corrections. But I’m curious about something: How should businesses (globally) respond to the food crisis? And what should we ask and expect of them?

My question arises from an article I read today on the BBC International web site about garment factory owners in Bangladesh. Factory owners there have started to distribute subsidized rice to their lowest paid workers as food prices force people to skip meals and some food groups. The government is doing something similar, but government purchasing locations are only open during working hours, so factory employees haven’t been able to participate.

I also learned that the garment industry accounts for 3/4 of Bangladesh’s export income. In my mind, that ranks the importance of the garment industry close to that of the government’s in some ways.

At this point you may be thinking, “Why don’t the factory owners just pay their employees a living wage and give them the time off work they need?” Certainly the thought crossed my mind, too, and certainly the companies aren’t acting from pure altruism when they subsidize rice for their employees. People who don’t get enough to eat, and who need to wait in government lines during the day, will be less productive and have increased absenteeism. That’s bad for business, especially when you’re competing with China, India, Vietnam, and other low-cost locations. What’s more, since the garment industry is such a huge part of Bangladesh’s economy, slowing its production and growth would cause even more problems, at least in the short term (though there’s certainly an argument to be made for longer-term diversification). And it won’t help a factory worker to lose his job in order to stand in line for cheaper rice. So even if these garment factories are not doing all they could do, and even if their motives are displeasing, they are bringing relief that’s not otherwise available.

So I ask myself, if businesses and industry have power and resources, and also have an interest in keeping people healthy, working, and buying their products, why are they not a larger part of the conversation about addressing the food crisis? At a minimum, people spending more of their income on food will have less to spend on other products and services. At worst, people who are starving will not be coming to work, and the business or industry will falter. Yet most of the reporting I hear involves the responses of government, globabl political bodies like the UN and WTO, and not-for-profits. That’s why today’s BBC article caught my eye – it seemed unusual. Buy why? Where are the voices of business and industry? Perhaps they are there, and I just haven’t been reading or listening to the right things (entirely possible!). But I also wonder if we don’t somewhat overlook the business sector when we look for solutions. Perhaps our initial reaction to a crisis should be not only “What are governments doing?” but rather, “What are governments doing and how are businesses assisting or complementing those efforts?” And then we should expect a real answer.

How much of your budget do you spend on food?

I’ve been reading lots of interesting statistics recently. Combine them and they become sobering very quickly. An example:

From The New York Times: Indonesians spend 50% of their budgets on food, Vietnamese spend 65%, Nigerians spend 73%. The poorest fifth of American households spend 16% of their budgets on eating.

Here are some statistics from The World Bank: Global food prices are up 83% in the past year and a half or so, 36 countries are experiencing food security crises, and prices are expected to remain high through at least 2009.

So what happens when you put those facts together? What’s a community to do when they already spend over half of their income on food, and the costs nearly double? Riots are one of the answers, a way of demanding help from governments and the attention of whomever is listening.

It makes me glad to be living in America. We certainly have our share of problems, and we can’t be proud of how many of our citizens live in poverty and with food insecurity. But as recession looms (or arrives?) and we look to our government, they give us an ecomonic stimulus rebate check. I know it doesn’t solve all of our problems, and arguably creates new ones. I know it doesn’t reach everyone. But the majority of us are still eating, and many of us are still eating very well. I am grateful that my government is both able and willing to respond to an economic downturn.

The ELCA Conference of Bishops recently pledged to tithe their economic stimulus rebate checks to ministries that serve people living in poverty. I think this is a great idea! The intent of the checks is upheld; the money is injected back into the economy so that goods and services are purchased, so that people keep their jobs, earn paychecks, etc. In maintaining the economy, we strive to avoid the conditions that lead to riots. And if those of us who are able donate some or all of our rebates to poverty-related ministries (like ELCA World Hunger!), the money can be put back into the economy by organizations and people with more urgent needs than our own.

Wow! Have you seen the price of wheat?!

The headlines about rising food prices around the globe are sobering. The World Bank reports that wheat prices are up 200% since 2000 and overall food prices are up 75%. The increases are causing difficulty as people spend an ever-larger portion of their income on food. As usual, the poorest are hit the hardest. Meager incomes never went far, and when the cost of bread doubles, they can buy even less. In some places, people are protesting in the streets, as demonstrated by recent riots in Indonesia and Burkina Faso.

There are several converging reasons behind the increase of world food prices, including greater global demand, adverse weather affecting crop production, and the diversion of grain from food to biofuel. I recently ran across a nice explanation of these factors and their consequences. Check out the BBC Food Series. There are four video clips covering food supply stories in different parts of the world, and the top right of the page has links to several other related articles. (The link to the Chicago video clip is misdirected but you can get to it here.) If you’re wanting an quick education or need to explain the situation to others, this is a great place to start!