Putting food in perspective

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — It is not often that the words of the Pope make it into the pages of this web site. The reason is fairly easy to discern — Many of the topics Pope Francis addresses are outside the purview of the day-to-day issues food and beverage executives face in their jobs. But the Pope’s comments at the United Nations’ Second International Conference on Nutrition that took place in Rome this week are relevant.

Some may not agree with his comments about food as a commodity, but few may argue with his underlying argument — That hunger and malnutrition must be addressed.

“Nowadays there is much talk of rights, frequently neglecting duties; perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry,” the Pope said Nov. 20 at the conference. “It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities,’ the ‘primacy of profit,’ which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature.

“And while we speak of new rights, the hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.”

Pope Francis emphasized the recognition of the “rights of the hungry” as a central tenet to addressing the issues of hunger and malnutrition.

“When this is achieved, then humanitarian intervention, emergency relief and development operations — in their truest, fullest sense — will attain greater momentum and bring the desired results,” he said. “Interest in the production, availability and accessibility of foodstuffs, climate change and agricultural trade should certainly inspire rules and technical measures, but the first concern must be the individual as a whole, who lacks daily nourishment and has given up thinking about life, family and social relationships, instead fighting for survival.”

Pope Francis reminded his audience that many of the issues he was raising were raised at the First Conference on Nutrition.

“St. John Paul II, in the inauguration in this hall of the First Conference on Nutrition in 1992, warned the international community against the risk of the ‘paradox of plenty,’ in which there is food for everyone, but not everyone can eat, while waste, excessive consumption and the use of food for other purposes is visible before our very eyes. Unfortunately, this ‘paradox’ remains relevant.

“There are few subjects about which we find as many fallacies as those related to hunger; few topics as likely to be manipulated by data, statistics, the demands of national security, corruption, or futile lamentation about the economic crisis. This is the first challenge to be overcome.”

The second challenge highlighted by the Pontiff is a lack of solidarity among people and countries to address hunger and it may lead to conflict and deprive the weakest people of a decent life. Rather, the Pope called on people to focus on “love, justice and peace.”

“These are criteria that, on the ethical plane, are based on the pillars of truth, freedom, justice and solidarity; at the same time, in the legal field, these same criteria include the relationship between rights and food, and the right to life and a dignified existence, the right to be protected by law, not always close to the reality of those who suffer from hunger, and the moral obligation to share the economic wealth of the world,” he said.

The Pope concluded his remarks by noting, “Above all, no system of discrimination, de facto or de jure, linked to the capacity of access to the market of foodstuffs, must be taken as a model for international efforts that aim to eliminate hunger.”

Hunger as an issue is not one that is going to go away. The food and beverage industry’s focus on it has prompted many discussions about improving yields to feed a growing global population and reducing food waste in an effort to conserve resources. Both of these issues are paramount to accomplishing the goals of both the Pope and the United Nations, and this industry is and will be a significant part of a solution.

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