Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.
The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.
The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
The city of Belo Horizonte puts “Direct From the Country” farmer produce stands throughout busy downtown areas.
Photo by Leah Rimkus
'Food as a right'. It makes sense to me. As humans, we owe that to one another, especially when there is enough to go around. Frances Moore Lappé, the writer of this article, put it well:
"In writing Diet for a Small Planet, I learned one simple truth: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy."Like health care, there is a minimum subsistence level that every person deserves simply by being human. If you want to call that socialism, fine by me. 'Private charity' is not the whole answer, because then it becomes dependent on personal generosity, which can fluctuate, and it can become a 'moral issue' in which a superior deigns to throw a crumb to an inferior. The donation depends upon the good will of the person doing the donating, and often entails conditions put upon the donation.
Sure, there will always be people who will 'take advantage' of public support, but I believe that, since the majority of people in need are not in need because of laziness or irresponsibility, but are in need because of circumstances beyone their control, it is unfair to deny help to those who need it because of the relatively small percentage of people who take advantage of the system. And, as the article mentions, it is beneficial to society as a whole if everyone is fed, just like it is beneficial to society when everyone is educated.