There is perhaps no more universally heart-rending image than that of a hungry child. Depictions of issues as disparate as urban poverty, environmental catastrophe, and an inadequate education system invoke the hungry child as a shorthand for injustice and absolute wrongness. Such images suggest that hunger is a universal experience – all people hunger the same, and hunger itself is a sensation that everyone can equally imagine and experience. In this post, I want to historicize and contextualize this idea of the naturalness, simplicity, and the apoliticality of hunger. While “feeding the hungry” might seem like a viable moral imperative, this approach toward resolving hunger is itself a product of a specific political and economic moment; conceptualizing hunger as apolitical,…

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While the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program in which low-income men constructed trails and lodges in parks, built public roads, and otherwise improved the American environment, lasted just under a decade, it has remained an incredibly popular agency in American consciousness. Organizations push its memory, the National Park Service celebrates its past, and Americans write a surprising number of editorials about how we should revive the program. This is an unusual amount of love for a social welfare program, most of which are loathed and stigmatized in the U.S. Why are so many welfare programs villainized, even when they include a work component, while the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) invokes such pride and nostalgia? There are several reasons…

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Hunger strikes are a political device. Since the early 20th century, they have frequently provoked debate on the individual’s right to self-determination and the limits of the state’s duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and ensure their survival. When we read present day news reports on hunger strikes, the suffering body is in the focus of camera lenses and at the center of our imaginations. Unsurprisingly, questions on normative body ideals, fitness, and food seem to be rather absent. But in the Progressive Era (~ 1890s-1920s), they arguably played a vital, maybe even a formative role in establishing hunger strikes as a form of protest. Back then, British and American activists for women’s suffrage not only drew public…

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It is a contradiction to work for social justice and perpetuate fatphobia at the same time. This should be obvious, and yet many people with strong commitments to social justice often use rhetoric that entrenches the oppression of fat people. A popular, but pernicious, set of fatphobic assertions takes the form of what some scholars refer to as the “foodscape argument.” On its surface, the foodscape argument (which is also known as the “obesogenic environment” thesis, or the “environmental” theory of fatness) seems progressive. The theory postulates that western industrial societies are experiencing an “epidemic” of “obesity,” which is driven in large part by economic inequality. According to the foodscape argument, low-income people lack access to nutritious foods and are…

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On March 27, 2015, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) issued a press release about a new campaign against hunger. It announced a partnership with the Tyson Foods Corporation and the Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico to provide more proteins to Native American and Mexican American children. Neglecting commercial interest of the Tyson Food Corporation, the press release describes the campaign as neither an act of charity nor a political protest but as an educational act: eating right as an issue of self-advancement. Why feeding hungry children is also a civil rights issue, the blog of the Roadrunner Food Bank reveals: In the section “Stories from the hungry” we get to read about Michael. Michael (whose…

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