faith in action

Race, hunger and the Eucharist

The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world. It also has 42 million residents facing hunger. Half of those lack “access, at times, to enough food for all household members,” what the USDA calls food insecurity.

The Alliance to End Hunger conducted a workshop last month on the intersection of hunger and racial equity in the United States. The findings are staggering.

The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world. It also has 42 million residents facing hunger. Half of those lack “access, at times, to enough food for all household members,” what the USDA calls food insecurity.

Taken alone, these numbers are startling enough. Add in the ways in which race and white supremacy shape American life, and we find that communities of color are more likely to be affected by hunger and food insecurity.

The presenter used a simulation exercise to introduce us to the intricacy of wealth, race, and hunger.

Participants were told to choose a race card — black or white, and, preferably the opposite of their own race — and then listen to the thirteen or so policies that were implemented from the 1800’s to the present day.

Some of these addressed the Freedman’s Bureau promise to implement a plan by Union General William Sherman Plan granting recently freed slaves 40 acres and one mule, the leftovers from the plantation owners in the South. Another addressed President Johnson’s revocation of this legislation, moving a majority of African Americans back into poverty.

Many African Americans were left out of Social Security as it was being established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many of the jobs held by African Americans at the time — such as domestic workers and sharecroppers — were excluded from the program. This left them with no other choice but to work until they simply no longer could. This, in turn, created a loss of wages.

Redlining, housing and job discrimination, access to education, and the effects of the war on drugs were all brought up as barriers to wealth creation for communities of color.

White wealth was thirteen times black wealth by the end of the simulation.

This serves as a visual aid for our current reality. The average wealth of a white household is thirteen times that of a black household.

It’s important to understand the significance wealth plays in avoiding hunger and poverty.

Wealth serves as buffer from detrimental events such as sickness, death and unemployment. Food can also be seen as an asset rather than a liability because of its propensity to provide nutrition, sustenance and sustainability.

When people are without food or quality food, it creates both a quantitative and qualitative loss. Currently, one out of every ten white households and one out of every five black households experiences hunger. As made evident in the workshop, this can be directly linked to economic inequality and inequity as a result or the foundation of racial inequality in our structures.

We will see a racial wealth gap of $1.2 million by 2043 if current trends continue.

So where do we go from here?

We need to shape policy and advocacy messaging around shared experience and shared goals. This is in cooperation with the use of sound data and evidence, outcome-driven possibilities and parity.

There must also be an unapologetic stance to center race in the conversation. Any work done without taking the effects of race into account will fail. This means that our conversations may, at times, become uncomfortable.

However, they should never turn into something brutal. This is because we all — whether black or white, rich or poor, working class or middle class, city dweller or rural inhabitant — need food. Without it, we cannot survive, let alone thrive. The absence of quality food allows for disease, crime, malnutrition and countless other harmful effects to swallow up both families and neighborhoods.

As the church, we should frame this conversation in form and imagery of the Eucharist. We state that all are welcome to God’s table, one of substance and sustenance, renewal and restoration. It is at the table that our race, our class, our education, our social location are null and void. Rather, we are on equal footing, each with both need and desire to be filled as well as strengthened in good things. From this perspective, we must ensure that the same attitude we have about the table transcends to our advocacy, policy prescriptions and attitude toward ensuring all are fed quality food for both their existence and their nourishment.