Developing strategies to end hunger
 

171 posts categorized "Inequality"

A Climate to End Hunger: What’s Cooking?

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Photo: Todd Post

In the developing world, women and girls are expected to collect firewood for cooking. The amount of time they spend on this chore varies depending on the local environment, but it is not uncommon to have to travel for hours to collect firewood several times a week.

A lot of trees are cut down as a result. The collection of firewood contributes to deforestation, and deforestation is a major contributor to global climate change.

We all want to reduce our carbon footprint. But what are the real-world choices of people in developing countries? It is one thing to gripe about people in rich countries who won’t part with their gas-guzzling automobiles, but quite another to expect people in poor countries to cook fewer meals in the interest of staving off climate change. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the effects of their reliance on firewood. There are cost-effective ways to help solve the problem -- and nobody has to go hungry as a tradeoff.

In Malawi just last week, I saw how a simple clay stove—sold for less than a dollar—can significantly reduce the amount of firewood families use. And in turn, it frees up the time women and girls spend collecting it – time that they can now devote to more productive activities, such as work that produces an income or attending school.

A group of women I spoke with, participants in a program implemented by the National Association of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi (NASFAM), had been using open fires to cook their meals. They estimated that before they received clay stoves, they spent about 10 hours a week collecting firewood. With the new stoves, though, they’d reduced that time to less than an hour.

In addition to the stoves, NASFAM gave members of the group some seedlings to grow trees. If only the stoves had been provided, the women and girls would still have needed to walk for hours to get to the forest to collect their wood. They would not have needed to make as many trips as when they cooked over open fires, since the stoves need only a fraction of the firewood – but with trees right outside their homes, they can get firewood without going to the forest at all. Similarly, it would not make sense to plant trees without providing the stoves, since all the wood required to cook using open fires would have decimated the trees in no time.

But here’s the best part of the story: the community is now building stoves themselves and selling them in volume to a buyer, who in turn sells them in other villages for $1 each. They were able to do this because they pooled their resources to purchase the molds needed to make these clay stoves. They’ve also built a kiln. The enterprise is lifting families out of poverty, increasing their food intake, diversifying diets, and making it possible to keep children in school.

This story shows that it’s quite possible to improve people’s lives in significant ways without increasing the size of their carbon footprint. A little bit of technology goes a long way. Todd Post

Data to End Hunger: Immigrant Poverty Data

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It’s important for immigrants who are undocumented to maintain a low profile – in particular to avoid attention from the government. But this also makes it difficult to obtain data on this group, estimated to include 11 million to 12 million people.

Even basic data -- such as how many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States – are at best estimates based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. To encourage full participation of immigrants in the census, the Census Bureau does not ask about immigration status. Neither is this information collected by any other government agency. The commonly agreed-upon figure of 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants is based on the work of research organizations, including the Pew Hispanic Trends Project, which analyze Census data to arrive at estimates of the raw numbers.

With no clear idea of exactly how many people are in the group, it is even more difficult to measure indicators of their socioeconomic status -- the data are even scarcer. For example, poverty rates among unauthorized immigrants:  there are several studies, but they arrive at different findings. On the lower side, the Pew Hispanic Trends Project estimated that 21 percent of unauthorized immigrant adults live in poverty, and one-third of the children of unauthorized parents (most of whom are U.S. citizens) live in poverty.

Those poverty rates are far too high for a wealthy country such as the United States – and yet they are lower than those found by other researchers. For example, the Public Policy Institute of California has estimated that roughly a third of all immigrants live in poverty.

The available data on poverty, while sparse and not consistent, is better than that on food security and hunger -- which is almost nonexistent. At the national level, there is data on food insecurity rates among immigrants. USDA estimates that during the period 2003-2010, 23 percent of recent immigrants, 25 percent of long-term immigrants, and 15 percent of naturalized immigrants were food insecure, compared with 18 percent for the U.S. population as a whole. But there is very little national-level data that looks specifically at food insecurity among unauthorized immigrants.

Most hunger and food insecurity statistics for unauthorized immigrants are only available at the state level, usually through university-led research. Even then, some of the research is dated and uses small sample sizes. Iowa State University found that 41 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents in Iowa were food insecure. But this was an inexact measure of food insecurity among unauthorized immigrants since Spanish speakers were used as a proxy. Similarly,  surveys in North Carolina found that food insecurity rates ranged from 36 percent to 42 percent among Latino immigrant families in the state.

The bottom line is that there is much we don’t know about the socioeconomic status of unauthorized immigrants. This is yet another reason to enact immigration reforms that legalize immigrants. In addition to the economic benefits for immigrant families, bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows will also help researchers better understand their socioeconomic realities, including how and why they experience poverty and food insecurity.  And identifying problems is an essential first step toward solving them.

Andrew Wainer

A Climate to End Hunger: Agriculture Is Part of the Problem and the Solution

Hunger Report Monday 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sectors

Editor’s note: Welcome to Bread for the World Institute’s blog series on A Climate to End Hunger. The other day when I realized that Earth Day was approaching, I winced at my conflation of Earth Day with climate change. But it makes sense. Climate change is the biggest threat yet to Earth’s environment – and increasingly widespread hunger is one of its most tragic potential consequences. In this series, we reflect on how we can help prevent such a catastrophe. 

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III published the third and final contribution, Mitigation of Climate Change, to the organization’s forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report. Working Group III, made up of hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, was tasked with surveying thousands of the latest peer-reviewed studies to gauge the current status of climate change, the hazards it poses to humanity, and, of course, what people can do to prevent and/or cope with those hazards. The Guardian’s Leo Hickman summed up the group’s findings best – and at Tweetable length:

Climate change is real. We are to blame. It will get worse if we fail to act. The solutions are available and affordable. But time is short.

The group’s findings support the warning – stronger than ever – of the threat posed by climate change not only to hungry and poor people, but to the entire global economy. Climate change is increasingly straining global food systems. The message to policymakers is that if all countries, rich and poor alike, do not act quickly and cooperatively, the hard-won global progress against hunger and extreme poverty of the past few decades could be rapidly undone.

More specifically, climate change threatens global food security by causing declining crop yields; disruptions in food access, utilization, and price stability; and significantly reduced access to water, food security, and agricultural incomes in rural communities.

As the report’s chart (above) shows, about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use” (AFOLU) sector — more than by the transport and building sectors combined. Sustainable agricultural practices will be crucial to reducing AFOLU emissions while still producing enough food for the growing population. Promising mitigation options include afforestation and sustainable forest management, improved cropland management, and restoration of organic soils.

At its core, responding effectively to climate change means building resilience in communities where people have always struggled to produce enough food. It demands strong and organized political leadership, infrastructure, and resources at all levels — local, regional, national, and global. Strengthening local capacity to create and implement informed, effective adaptation strategies is vital to building resilience.

Chapter 5 of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, examines how agriculture has been part of the climate change problem, and more importantly, how it must be part of the solution. Visit www.hungerreport.org to read more.   Derek Schwabe

Data to End Hunger: Specialized Food Aid Products

Traditionally, food aid from the United States meant bagged cereals and pulses (such as dried peas and lentils), flour, a blended corn-soy product designed to be mixed with water to make porridge or gruel, or a combination of these. Purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the American Midwest, it was sent by rail or barge to U.S. ports and then continued its long journey by ship. Finally, food aid arrived in the places where it was needed, where it was distributed through emergency and development programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For decades, this was the personification of the bounty of U.S. farmers and the generosity of the U.S. public toward hungry and vulnerable people.

Since the beginning of the main U.S. food aid program, Food for Peace, developments in food science and nutrition have taught us a lot about the effectiveness of food aid commodities. For example, while general distribution food aidBlog graph 040914such as that delivered in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, provides the calories necessary to avert starvation, it is inadequate as a person’s sole source of sustenance for long periods of time. Studies by Tufts University and the Government Accountability Office found that there is a risk of malnutrition because the commodities are deficient in essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). This is a significant problem because in recent years, more than 96 percent of all food aid recipient countries have received food aid for four or more years.

Also thanks to advances in food and nutrition science, new food aid products have been developed and are increasingly being used in programs to treat both moderate and severe malnutrition. Food aid products began to be targeted to the specific groups of people for whom they would be most effective. For example, micronutrient-fortified formulations of Corn Soy Blend and Wheat Soy Blend were made (from a blend of partially cooked cornmeal, soy flour, iodized salt, and vegetable oil). Other formulations that have been tested contain soy- or milk-based (whey) proteins, which have been shown to help the body absorb nutrients. This is most critical to malnourished children younger than 2 -- those in the 1,000 Days window of opportunity.

Other new types of food aid belong to the category “lipid-based nutritional supplements” (LNS). One of the first therapeutic LNS foods is a peanut-based product with a name that’s now widely recognized – Plumpy’nut. This and related products marketed by the Nutriset company show tremendous success in helping children with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

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Specialized food products like these are used with mothers and children in the highlands of Guatemala

A study in Niger found that giving Plumpy’nut to children younger than 2 with Severe Acute Malnutrition reduced mortality by about 50 percent – a result heralded as a significant change in the way food aid is used.

Additional LNS products have been developed by U.S.-based companies.  Also, there have been pilot projects that base the therapeutic foods on locally-grown chickpeas, peanuts, cashews, sesame, corn, and soybeans. Using local crops will significantly reduce the cost, which can be a barrier to increasing the use of LNS products in donor-funded programs.

In addition to LNS-based foods, Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food (RUSF) and Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) products, micronutrient-fortified/enriched milled flours and blends, and meal replacement emergency foods have all been developed and are now in use. Meal replacement products include dairy and legume protein pastes as well as grain-based protein bars. 

Increased use of specialized products is an integral part of the food aid reforms in the recently passed U.S. farm bill. It is noteworthy that the farm bill contains specific language instructing USAID to explore ways in which these products can be stockpiled in food aid pre-positioning sites around the world.  Pre-positioning can make them immediately available in emergencies where children are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition. Better targeting of specialized foods to the most vulnerable populations will save lives.

Other food aid reforms currently under way include increasing the percentage of local and regional purchase of food, and allowing additional flexibility to provide help in the form of food vouchers or cash where appropriate, as opposed to shipping bagged food aid products from the United States. These reforms will reduce program costs and ultimately feed millions more people with the same resources.

This is critical, because according to the Lancet medical journal, malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of all child deaths, more than 3 million children per year. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that one in four children in the world is stunted (below the median height for age of a reference population), a condition related to chronic malnutrition with life-long social, health, education and economic consequences.

Research and data have enabled the development of specialized therapeutic food aid products.  Increasing the use of all forms and formulations of such products is our best weapon against acute malnutrition, particularly among severely malnourished children whose lives are at stake. This is one battle in the war against hunger that we can win.

Scott Bleggi

Day Four in Rwanda

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Some time back I went to Iowa to talk with farmers.  It was then I learned an important thing about agriculture. A farmer explained to me, “I never used to care about the price of corn and soybeans. Raising hogs was my business. I grew corn and beans to feed to my hogs.” 

Those are bygone days for small to medium-sized farmers of the two biggest commodity crops in the United States. The concentration of the livestock sector has made it impossible for farmers like the ones I spoke with to compete against the handful of giants who control the market.

I knew what he was telling me was an important lesson then. On a small farm in Rwanda I relearned it and it made me think about what is the best way to help smallholder farmers in developing countries get out of poverty.

In the Kirehe District of Rwanda, I met farmers there benefiting from a program funded primarily by the Rwandan government - and to a lesser extent by the US government - being implemented by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

IFAD has donated cows to a group of farmers in the program. Smallholder farmers in Rwanda are some of the poorest people on earth and would never be able to afford a cow without such support. One of the requirements of the farmers receiving a cow was to pass along a heifer to one of their neighbors. This sounds a lot like what the organization Heifer International does, and it is except there are several other components to the IFAD program, but the main thing I want to focus on is the livestock.

Joseline Umugwaneza, a 26-year old woman who was orphaned as a child after the 1994 genocide and has been homeless for most of her life, received a cow on February 28, 2012. This was the beginning of the end of her living in extreme poverty. Joseline’s cow produces 10 liters of milk per day.  She is earning well above a dollar per day now. She has earned enough from the sale of the milk to allow her to open a tearoom and small shop. 

When a smallholder farmer has a cow, she has a source of income far greater than she can ever earn from cropping. Joseline still farms but like the U.S. farmer above, the livestock is the value-added of her enterprise. The cow eats grass predominantly. With a cow she doesn’t have to sow seed, she doesn’t have to weed, she doesn’t have to worry about the vicissitudes of the weather, and she doesn’t have to endure the invariable stretches of hunger between each harvest. Cows are indifferent to the ‘hungry season, they go on producing their milk, providing Joseline with a source of income all the yearlong. Indeed it is the gift that keeps on giving.

The other thing about a cow is it provides a source of nutrition for the family - especially children. Maternal and child malnutrition has become a major focus of our work at Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. Thanks to new research over the last five to ten years, it is much clearer that it is not enough just to feed people, we need to get them nutritious foods. The name of the game in agricultural development assistance is no longer just production but also nutrition.

It may not be possible to provide every smallholder with a cow. Some just won’t be able to succeed at animal husbandry. But when I see how much of a difference it has made to Joseline and other farmers like her that IFAD has helped, and in such a short time, I wonder why donors—governments, multinationals, and NGOs—don’t do more programming like this.  

American farmers have been harmed by the loss of their value-added; smallholders in the developing world have barely begun to realize their value-added.  Todd

Day Three in Rwanda

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda. Read about days one and two here.

Today, we’ll focus on the work of nongovernmental organizations. The NGO community in Rwanda is busy helping to empower women. But what does empowerment mean in real terms? Does the word “empowerment” make any sense to you without an illustration?

So here is one—provided by ActionAid Rwanda. About a decade ago a small group of women came together, widows of the 1994 genocide or the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poor to begin with and isolated by grief. First, ActionAid worked with them to develop a skill, weaving baskets, and then to find markets for the finished product to generate a little income. Basket weaving was no mere activity to keep their hands busy. In Rwanda, a basket is a symbol of peace, and their weaving as a group symbolic of the national as well personal struggle of healing.

Together, the women gave each other support and strength and eventually they desired a more substantial income-generating activity. They formed a farm cooperative and grew maize. This led to value-addition by converting the maize into maize flower. The cooperative increased in size as they brought more broken women into the enterprise.

The more successful they were the more time it took to run the enterprise. They realized the work was interfering with their household responsibilities, particularly care giving to their children. They were less poor economically, but more time-poor than before and they found that almost as stressful as when they had no income at all.

The cooperative established a child development center so that the women did not have to choose between employment and their children’s well being. The child development center became an enterprise of its own, opening to other families in their community.

Let’s discuss another kind of empowerment activity that evolved out of their relationship with ActionAid. The women were more confident, more poised to advocate for themselves and their Rwandan sisters. ActionAid provided the women with training to engage with local leaders. The women shared their experience with government officials, particularly their struggle to achieve a balance between employment and household responsibilities, and they exhorted officials to improve policies to allow all Rwandan women to earn a decent income without sacrificing their role as mothers. Policies are improving in Rwanda, maybe not as fast as the women in this example would like, but it has not been for their lack of attention. Todd Post

Day Two in Rwanda

Connie Bwiza, member of Rwandan Parliament (Photo credit: IGIHE LTD)

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda.

On Monday we met with Connie Bwiza, a member of parliament, to hear how women in Rwanda are shaping policy and helping to transform the country. Connie has been in parliament since 1998. She represents Kiyovu, an area of Kigali.

We learned of Connie back in Washington, DC. She has played a prominent role in Rwanda's post-conflict reconcilaition and rehabilitation. She is also involved in several international women's organizations. 

When we contacted her before leaving Washington, DC, she was excited to meet and share what women have accomplished in Rwanda since the genocide in 1994. She also arranged for us to meet with her teenage sons and niece in a separate interview to talk with them about Rwandan youth, the generation born after the genocide, but we’ll say more about that later in the week.

The same day as our interview with Connie an article about Rwanda appeared in the New York Times discussing some of the latest developments in the country’s meteoric rise since the genocide. The article scarcely mentions the role of women and conveys how much of a secret it remains to the public at large.

It turned out to be a mournful day for East African women, especially Faustine, because the parliament in her native Kenya had just passed a bill legalizing polygamy. Connie was outraged and explained how damaging the bill is to all East African countries. Not only is it an affront to women in the region, but it threatens to wreck the close economic ties that countries in the region are building. 

The difference between attitudes towards women in Rwanda and Kenya is not as gaping as this bill might cause you to think. Faustine describes it as a shocking anomaly, and I should add that it remains to be seen whether the president of Kenya will sign the bill into law. Public pressure is already mounting to strike it down.

Such a bill would never come up in Rwanda. A female majority in parliament would not allow it. Moreover, it would not be possible because it does not comply with the rule of law. In Rwanda, the law mandates that every bill introduced in parliament must be evaluated for its effect on men and women, and if a bill is not deemed gender neutral it has no chance of passage.

There is something to be said for the importance of reaching critical mass. Rwanda has held three elections since a new constitution was passed. In the first election cycle, women gained 48 percent of the seats in parliament, and then increased it to 56 percent, and in the most recent increased it still further to 64 percent. Norms don’t change all on their own, change requires a prod from policy, and in Rwanda with a majority of women in parliament there is a veritable guarantee there will be a prod working to up end gender inequality. 

 Countries all over the developing world have passed laws reserving a share of the seats in parliament for women. Thirty percent is the most common figure because the gender equality goal of the Millennium Development Goals includes a 30 percent target. But what is equal about 30 percent, when women make up 50 percent of the population? Todd Post

First Impressions in Rwanda

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Rwanda is the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament (photo credit: Women Hall).

Most of the world knows more about the Rwanda of twenty years ago than about the country today. The genocidal killing that lasted for three unbelievable months in 1994 should not be all this tiny nation is known for. Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Given where the country was twenty years ago, the progress it has made is remarkable. Bread for the World Institute’s Todd Post and Faustine Wabwire have come to Rwanda to learn more about this.

Rwanda has the distinction of being the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament. While the president is a man—indeed a very strong man—the women of Rwanda are playing an uncommonly powerful role in the country’s development. Women were involved right from the start in the post-conflict reconciliation, and they continue to shape policy and drive progress against hunger and other hardships associated with poverty. The 2015 Hunger Report will be about women in development, and so Rwanda was an obvious choice to visit. We will report on some of our meetings while we’re here and share our reflections as we learn about the relationship between gender and development.

As we shake off our jet lag, we do what most people from abroad do while they’re in Kigali, the capital, i.e. we visit the genocide memorials. They are ubiquitous. There is one for a group of Belgian soldiers who gave their lives trying (unsuccessfully) to protect the Rwandan prime minister. Outside the building where the killing took place is the memorial. Bullet holes cover outside and inside of the building to show the extent of the carnage. There are no blood stains but the imagination can do the work.

There were no other visitors at this memorial when we arrived so we had time to talk with the man who is paid to welcome people to the site, what must be a lonely if not sorrowful job for any Rwandan. He was sixteen in April 1994, he told us. His parents and all his siblings were slaughtered in their home; he was elsewhere when the killers came. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for him to be reminded of it all the day long and I ask him about this. It is steady work and better than being unemployed, he explains. He has a wife and two children, the oldest six years old and just starting school. The job pays a small wage and he doesn’t eat more than one meal per day consisting mostly of rice. We thanked him for sharing this with us, put a bill in his hand and wished him the best. This is the beginning of our visit to Rwanda. Todd Post

Pressure Mounts on Obama Administration to Defer Deportations

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A photo of an immigrant in North Carolina, who lives in the United States without legal authorization. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

During a 2008 television interview on a presidential campaign stop, then-Sen. Barack Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, “I can guarantee that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support.”

Six years later, however, immigration reform remains mired in Congress. While the Senate produced a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, and President Obama supported it, it did not become the law of the land. Meanwhile, during the Obama administration, an estimated 2 million unauthorized immigrants have been deported – more than under any president in history.

After the Senate bill was passed, advocates turned their efforts to House Republicans, pressing them to engage with the Senate legislation and take action on reform. In the past year, House Republicans have taken small steps that led to a set of immigration reform principles seen as a major step forward in their thinking on the issue. Hopes for quick change were subsequently dimmed, however, when House Speaker John Boehner indicated that Republicans were unlikely to move on reform because they did not trust the president to enforce new immigration laws.

Advocates who see House Republications as a lost cause in the near term are increasingly focusing their frustration on Obama. They are led by Latino media personalities such as Univision’s Ramos, who has been called the “Walter Cronkite of Hispanic media.”

“There has been a shift within the Hispanic media,” Ramos said this month. “If you read the editorial pages in the most important Spanish language newspapers, you notice immediately how the conversation has changed from attacking Republicans to attacking Obama.”

Last week, this growing frustration caused President Obama to announce that the Department of Homeland Security will conduct a review of deportation policies to see if they can be done “more humanely within the confines of the law.” The announcement came after the president's meeting with a group of Hispanic members of Congress who directly conveyed the growing anger among the Latino community and immigration reform advocates.

Americans support legalization for immigrants: 73 percent have called for legalizing immigrants, while only 24 percent said that unauthorized immigrants should not be allowed a path to legalization or citizenship. As long as Congress remains stalemated, Americans’ strong support for legalization will not be reflected in national policy. Last week immigration advocates scored a win with the announcement of the Department of Homeland Security review, but it remains to be seen whether this announcement will ultimately result in relief for immigrant families. Andrew Wainer

What Does Stigma Have to do with Hunger? Meet Dawn

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Dawn shares her story of facing social stigmas. (Video credit: Feeding America)

For millions of Americans like Dawn, the idea of accepting help--even when it's badly needed--is daunting and humiliating. While she was unemployed, Dawn received SNAP (food stamps) that helped keep her and her son fed and healthy. The safety net was there for her family when a job just wasn't. Getting by on SNAP was hard enough (the average benefit is less than $1.50 per meal), but being socially ostracized for it, she says, was the most stressful. Scrutinizing stares and rude comments became a usual part of her weekly grocery trip, and she found herself shopping late at night just to avoid ridicule. 

Dawn never forgot the undue shame that she was made to endure during that rough time--and the millions of others who still face it today. Like most Americans, she has a firm sense of self-reliance, and considers it a strength. But she knows that it can also feed that oppressive stigma. Today, she's a vocal advocate for the millions of Americans who bear a degenerating burden of guilt for circumstances they can't control.

We have many tools at our disposal (like the new SNAP EBT card system) that can make it easier for people to anonymously accept help when they need it, but as Dawn's story shows, they will not be enough. Combatting stigmas will start with challenging hurtful attitudes and assumptions about what it means to need help. 

Hunger is a shared public health problem--not a punishment for the few--and the more we talk about it this way, the sooner we may be able to reduce the stigma that makes it a much harder problem to solve than it should be.

Check out hungerreport.org to read Dawn's full story--complete with photos and graphics--and to download the complete 2014 Hunger Report and read more about how social stigmas perpetuate hunger in America.  Derek Schwabe

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