No, I don’t mean baseball! I have just started reading a book entitled Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, by Janet Poppendieck. In this book she contends that so many Americans participate in the fight to end hunger by donating to or volunteering in soup kitchens or food banks and pantries that it has become a national pastime. Poppendieck chronicles the increased reliance on charity as a response to poverty and hunger in the United States, while noting the erosion of government provided assistance. She contends that this resurgence in charity is a Band-Aid approach to ending poverty and hunger and is not the positive force it appears to be at first glance.
Her argument is two-fold. First she states that America soundly rejected this form of poverty remediation over half a century ago. Private charitable organizations, Poppendieck suggests, are inefficient and vary from location to location in the amount of assistance they provide. She further states that serving meals and distributing groceries is inadequate assistance and serves to separate and segregate those in poverty from the rest of society.
The second point in Poppendieck’s argument is that participating in a charitable response to hunger and poverty diverts our attention from an actual solution to poverty in America. Volunteering in and donating to charitable food distribution organizations, she contends, makes many Americans feel good and gives them a sense that the hunger problem is being addressed. Poppendieck suggests that all this goodwill Americans feel prevents us from working to implement national policies with the goal of truly ending poverty and hunger in America.
As someone who has just committed a large amount of my time to volunteering in food pantries and working to fill some of the gaps that exist in assisting the food insecure, I was taken aback by the notion that I might be doing more harm than good. I am, however, intrigued by what she has to say. I have a feeling in the end we will not be too far apart on our assessment of the situation and what needs to occur to eliminate food insecurity in the United States. That said, I do think this book will at times challenge my beliefs and opinions.
I think it is healthy to challenge the beliefs we hold, be they religious, political, or philosophical. Part of the problem we face in the United States today stems from the fact that people surround themselves with information and people that reinforce their belief structure. But that is a whole other discussion and one I don’t plan to undertake on this blog. As I stated, I have just started reading the book, but I will share with you my thoughts on the topic and the book when I am done. I am curious to see how or if it will alter the course of my journey to assist the food insecure.
I would be interested in your initial response to Poppendieck’s premise, or if you have read the book, what you thought about it.