Week 5 / The Human Right to Food

Musahar Child, Bihar India | Photo: S Bell

The Human Right to Food by Steve Bell

I don’t spend much time thinking about my own human rights. They’ve hardly ever, if ever, been  seriously transgressed.  And I live in a nation where we think of our wealth and safety primarily as the result of personal industry, character and, for some, God’s blessing. I work hard, I have some character at least, and I certainly feel blessed. I own a home and a car; this puts me in the top 2% wealthiest people on the planet.  I’m a white, blue-eyed male; this means of all the people of the earth,  I have the most access to opportunity on the basis of race and gender.  I’ve never been beaten, enslaved, wrongfully imprisoned, oppressed, forcibly displaced, seriously marginalized or the like. Surely I am blessed (?).

One night when my daughter Sarah was very young, perhaps about five years old, she was having a difficult time going to sleep because she was afraid. On questioning, her fears were rather unsubstantiated – a point I tried in vain to make.  Sarah was inconsolable.  Finally, in desperation I told her that Jesus loved her and nothing bad was going to happen. Sarah looked up at me  through her tears and said, “Okay Daddy.. but does that mean Jesus doesn’t love the kids that do get hurt?”  Clearly, my theology was inadequate.

There are, in fact, many places where good people who work very hard regularly go without enough to eat. I have seen this with my own eyes in Bihar, India among the low caste; folks who are not only deprived of their rights, but who often don’t even believe they have rights to be deprived of.

Village Council | photo: S Bell

These are the Musahar. But they are often called “the rat eaters.”   Sitting with them at a village council they told us how painful that title  was to hear. They don’t eat rats. But they do work for land owners who don’t pay them a living wage. And so they often will follow rats to their dens and rob them of grain stored undergound.  The government has programs to provide work and food, but those programs are robbed by petty officials and the aid rarely reaches its goal.  We sat among them for quite awhile hearing the desperation of their lives. Their survival depends on the capricious goodwill of unscrupulous land owners, and unsuspecting rats;  not the law –  not their rights.

Bihar, India | photo: N Bell

These children are born into a lifetime of hunger for no other reason than being a member of a certain caste. Others are condemned to hunger when forced to give up their land on which they grow food for their families. I’ve also met many such displaced people. But what if their right to the basic elements of a healthy life, including food, were protected in their society? What if access to land was protected in cases where people depend on this for their survival?

Musahar Home, Bihar India | photo: S Bell

In India, people took their government to court over poor distribution of food and lack of programs to fight hunger. Nanci and I got to witness the front lines of the efforts to fulfill the right to food for “untouchables”. We were with Christians there who were working on those front lines. Local churches participating in education programs for these communities, to make people aware of these services already created by the government for them. It was more than saying “Hey, did you know…?” They also helped them voice their demands for these services to local government officials. Simple things like food or clean water – things we take for granted – these are still a struggle to obtain for millions in India, where a growing middle class hides the fact that many of the world’s hungry people live in this country.  And we in Canada are not to be smug about this. We have our own citizens living on reserves with a centuries-old legacy of  cultural genocide; Canadians who don’t have basics like clean water;  living marginalized, impoverished lives with little or no chance of improvement.

Village council | photo: S Bell

The challenge for us, who already have enough, is to look beyond ourselves to others’ basic needs, which is what the human right to food is really about. It’s about us as individuals, or as a nation, looking beyond our borders and learning to take better care of each other. It’s about considering the impact of what we do – or what we can possibly do – to make sure others get to eat too. I think we can see some compatibility between this idea and the essential message of Jesus who once prayed, “Father, may they be one as you and I are one, so that the world would know you love them as you love me.”

Bihar, India | photo: N Bell

What can you do?  Start simply.  Don’t take on the world’s problems, but start to practice an extended kin-ship with others who are not part of your immediate family, social status or race.

Fast and pray. Fast and advocate. Fast and give.

To join me in, or to learn about the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s FAST FOR CHANGE campaign, click HERE… 


 (click arrow to listen to song)


words and music by Brian McLaren
from Steve Bell’s 2011 CD, Kin-dness

Christ has no body here but ours
No hands, no feet here, on earth but ours
Ours the eyes through, which he looks
On this world with kindness

Ours are the hands through which he works
Ours are the feet on which he moves
Our the voices, through which he speaks
To this world with kindness

Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here
Let us go now, enspirited
Into this world with kindness.

This blog is from week 5 of a six-week coffee fast Steve has undertaken in support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s FAST FOR CHANGE campaign.

Other Related Blogs in this Series:

Further Reading:

  • Waste Not, Want Not   by Terence Z. Sibanda.  “One third of all food produced is wasted, says a recent report from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Food is lost at every stage, from initial production, through the supply chain, the retail stage, and finally at the household level…In medium and high income countries about 220 million tonnes of food is lost at the household level. This loss is the equivalent of the total net food produced in Sub Saharan Africa.”
  • A Biblical Perspective on the Problem of Hunger by Walter Brueggemann. The persistence of hunger in a world entirely capable of producing enough food for all, in the end, is an issue of fidelity; a fidelity that issues from a three-way covenant between God, the earth, and its people. For our part, our covenant is to a “love-fueled justice –one that is binding not in the remote, legal sense, but rather in the familial sense.”

Listen to  FAST FOR CHANGE RADIO (free music)

click HERE…