World Food Day Reflection: Food Insecurity and the Radicalization of the Hungry

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Food insecure is a term thrown around in the development world, but you likely won’t hear it come up in general conversations, even those around poverty. We hear about people being hungry, but never food insecure. The term begs us to dig a little bit deeper. It asks more of us. I wonder if that’s one of the reasons it’s not common language.

Think Beyond the Food Drive

My local grocery store often asks me to buy an extra loaf of bread or can of soup for the donation bin at the end of the aisle, all with the premise of ending hunger.

I’m hesitant to be overly critical of these efforts, because they’re done with the best of intentions, and those extra groceries do serve a need for the vulnerable in our communities. But I think we need to consider the greater implications of hunger around the world and begin to think about food insecurity as a threat to our collective health and wellbeing. I want to encourage others to invest in actions and activities that seek to stabilize rather than just satisfy a temporary need, one in others, but also our temporary need to feel like we’re helping; like we’re doing our part.

The Real Issue of Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is a real issue that has real consequences most of us haven’t considered: migration, malnutrition, lack of education and radicalization, to name a few. Food insecure people become distressed, and distressed people become desperate. Desperate people do desperate things.

Have you ever gone into a community where a child would kill another child for a plate of food? Or have you considered the plight of refugees forced to migrate to a place where the people they’re relying on for food don’t like them? The local people live in fear and suspicion. When you’re forced to panhandle for food among your enemies, violence looks like a feasible option.

We know that children are especially vulnerable to radicalization at the hands of food insecurity. When they’re presented with the promise of a meal every day in exchange for picking up a rifle, it’s not a hard decision to make. Soon, they’re indoctrinated into radical ideology.

We Have Two Choices

We can either help to stabilize these communities, help them to become food secure, offer them educational opportunities, walk with them as they grow up and have families of their own—take ownership and invest in them now


We’ll have to invest in more wars, more violence and more deaths later on. It’s as simple as this: pay a little now or pay a lot later.

While traveling for a conference in Rwanda, I met Theo who acted as my host and guide. He had two young children and ran a life center taking in street boys. I watched, talked and observed him. He had witnessed families abandoning their children because they couldn’t feed them anymore. He had seen them resort to violence and theft. He knew all too well that a lack of food causes desperate actions. Theo himself knew the consequences of a radicalized youth and had felt the pain of food insecurity. While speaking to him one day, I asked him, “What concerns you?” His response lives in my mind and heart forever. He said, “I haven’t been able to feed my boys for two days, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to feed them tomorrow.” He reminded me that I’m living in a modern day miracle every time I walk into a grocery store. I’m surrounded by an abundance of food and access. This isn’t the reality for so many who are at the mercy of agriculture and failing infrastructures.

My personal story has had its moments of fear and poverty, but I’ve never been in such a destitute state where I didn’t know if I could eat for three days. Humans have a built in weakness—we need nourishment. This is a basic essential that should be afforded to all people. When people don’t have to worry for their next meal, they’re free to dream and have hope for the future. They’re free to thrive.

I know that world hunger seems like an issue too big to even attempt, but we can do something about it. We can become compassionate.

Compassion Should Create Food Security

The Greek root of the word compassion implies that we should be moved in our gut. It’s not sympathy. Compassion moves you so deeply and profoundly that you would experience it physically, like having a stomachache or heartburn. You’d be moved to the depth of your being. Jesus was moved with true compassion—he felt the pain of those around him. He didn’t have compassion and move to meet the needs of others just to appease his own feelings—he wanted to eradicate the conditions that caused that pain in others.

With all the things we can advocate for, we should be moving to end hunger. We can invest, give and work towards a world where people aren’t food insecure. We can work towards sustainable solutions, but we have to think beyond dropping another loaf of bread in the bin.