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Beginning to End Hunger: Food and the Environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Beyond

Beginning to End Hunger: Food and the Environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Beyond

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Beginning to End Hunger: Food and the Environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Beyond

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Lançado em:
Jan 19, 2018


Beginning to End Hunger presents the story of Belo Horizonte, home to 2.5 million people and the site of one of the world’s most successful food security programs. Since its Municipal Secretariat of Food and Nutritional Security was founded in 1993, Belo Horizonte has sharply reduced malnutrition, leading it to serve as an inspiration for Brazil’s renowned Zero Hunger programs. The secretariat’s work with local family farmers shows how food security, rural livelihoods, and healthy ecosystems can be supported together. In this convincing case study, M. Jahi Chappell establishes the importance of holistic approaches to food security, suggests how to design successful policies to end hunger, and lays out strategies for enacting policy change. With these tools, we can take the next steps toward achieving similar reductions in hunger and food insecurity elsewhere in the developed and developing worlds.

Learn more about Jahi and his work on his personal website.
Lançado em:
Jan 19, 2018

Sobre o autor

M. Jahi Chappell is a political agroecologist with training in ecology and evolutionary biology, science and technology studies, and chemical engineering. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, a Fellow of FoodFirst/the Institute for Food and Development Policy, and an Adjunct Faculty member of the School of the Environment at Washington State University.

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Beginning to End Hunger - M. Jahi Chappell

Beginning to End Hunger

The publisher and the University of California Press Foundation gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Fletcher Jones Foundation Imprint in Humanities.

Beginning to End Hunger

Food and the Environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Beyond

M. Jahi Chappell

with a foreword by Frances Moore Lappé


University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit www.ucpress.edu.

University of California Press

Oakland, California

© 2018 by The Regents of the University of California

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Chappell, M. Jahi, author.

Title: Beginning to end hunger : food and the environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and beyond / M. Jahi Chappell ; with a foreword by Frances Moore Lappé.

Description: Oakland, California : University of California Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. |

Identifiers: LCCN 2017036477 (print) | LCCN 2017046063 (ebook) | ISBN 9780520966338 (ebook) | ISBN 9780520293083 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780520293090 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Food security—Brazil—Belo Horizonte. | Nutrition policy—Brazil—Belo Horizonte. | Food supply—Government policy—Brazil—Belo Horizonte. | Hunger.

Classification: LCC HD9014.B8 (ebook) | LCC HD9014. B8 C47 2018 (print) | DDC 363.80981/51—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017036477

Manufactured in the United States of America

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Dedicated to the memories of Benjamin Franklin Brown Sr., Clara Lucille Brown, Dorothy Chappell, William James Chappell, and Laticia Raggs, who helped make me the person I am; and Charity Hicks, Cynthia Hayes, Kathy Ozer, Moisés Machado, Rodney Bender, and Dick Levins, who helped show me the kind of person I want to be.


List of Illustrations

Foreword by Frances Moore Lappé



1.Introduction: Food and Famine Futures, Past and Present

2.Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and Beginning to End Hunger

3.Belo Horizonte: All Five A’s on the Horizon

4.Multiple Streams and the Evolution of the Secretariat of Food and Nutritional Security

5.Farm, Farmer, and Forest: SMASAN and the Environment

6.Conclusions: Belo Horizonte and Beyond







1.Skyline of the Beautiful Horizon: Belo Horizonte, Brazil

2.Food security proxy indicators 1990–2008

3.Health and nutrition statistics in Belo Horizonte and Brazil

4.SMASAN organizational chart, ca. 2000

5.SMASAN organization chart, ca. 2017

6.Belo Horizonte and the Cerrado/Atlantic Forest transition zone

7.Major urban areas and land cover south of Belo Horizonte

8.Relationships in repeated social dilemmas


1.Resource use compared

2.List of SMASAN Support for Basic Food Production programs

3.List of SMASAN Management and Regulation of the Market programs

4.List of SMASAN Promotion of Food Consumption and Nutrition programs


With the book you have before you, Jahi Chappell has achieved a remarkable feat. In Beginning to End Hunger he enables readers to examine very old questions with brand-new eyes.

This book moves me in part for a deeply personal reason. Almost fifty years ago, what set me off on my path was the shock of discovering that much of the conventional way of perceiving the roots of hunger blocked us from solutions. Squirreled away in the University of California agricultural library, I wanted to know whether scarcity of food was really the culprit. Soon I realized we couldn’t blame stingy nature, for human beings were actively creating the experience of scarcity amid plenty.

From there, my question Why hunger? grew, ultimately to this much bigger one: Why are we creating together a world that none of us as individuals would ever choose? Certainly no one I’ve ever encountered gets up in the morning determined to make anyone go hungry. Chappell helps us grasp the answer. He conveys the power of the human mind to frame and reframe causes of hunger and therefore possibilities for actually beginning to end it.

I also love this book because I share Chappell’s belief that we humans learn by observing each other. It is by example and through stories that we best absorb new, and missed, opportunities. A gift he gives us is his intimate knowledge of the story of Brazil’s sixth largest city, Belo Horizonte (which means Beautiful Horizon), which has earned worldwide recognition for its quarter-century, many-faceted journey toward food with dignity for all.

What comes through this remarkable story is that answers require our reconsidering the very way we do governance, production, and consumption, as the author writes. We learn that this rocky but oh-so-rewarding road requires remaking the rules together. Then we can celebrate, for example, what must be an unprecedented achievement in the speed of social progress—under-five child mortality cut by 73% in just a decade—while at the same time staying fully cognizant of the vast undone work still under way.

The story of Belo is offered not as a model to lock us into a new frame, but as lesson-filled experiences to crack open our sense of the possible. In this, Chappell convinces me that one of the greatest obstacles to solutions is our reluctance to take the first step when we can’t envision the entire road ahead. He persuades me that we really are capable of letting go of that unfortunate tendency.

Finally, this remarkable book reminds me that hope itself has power. Neuroscientists tell us that hope actually helps to reorganize our neural pathways, our consciousness, toward solutions. And the story of a major city in one of the world’s most unequal societies achieving, however partial, what many believed to be impossible is precisely a story of what can happen in communities energized by hope.

That is why I argue that honest hope is not for the faint at heart! For we all need courage to pick up this book’s lessons.

In that vein, let me close with one of my favorite lines in this wonderful book: Beware . . . any approach to thinking about the problems of the world that requires nothing of you, and puts blame or responsibility on others, as a matter of first principle. Beginning to End Hunger is the opposite: It requires a lot from us—a willingness to try on new glasses and to embrace the joy of gaining clarity on one’s next step, letting go of any certainties beyond.

Most works about world hunger carry directives such as You should be more charitable or Shame on them—the evil ones keeping others hungry. This book welcomes us to become part of the solution if we are willing to rethink common assumptions and to take the first step. Writing with humanity, humility, and irony, Dr. Chappell welcomes us onto this emancipatory road.

Frances Moore Lappé

March 2017


You know, we were really happy when they threatened to sue us, said Rubens, an administrator in the Belo Horizonte city government.¹ Welcoming litigation is not something you would expect from a municipal official. Or from anyone else, for that matter.

It was 2003, and I was on my first visit to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with a group of Canadian nutrition students, coordinated by Cecilia Rocha, a Brazilian-Canadian nutrition economist. Cecilia is the foremost scholar of the extraordinary case of Belo Horizonte, a city whose food security policies are a rare example of success (Rocha 2001). While it might not—yet—literally be the city that ended hunger (Lappé 2010), it has made such significant strides in food security that such a tagline cannot be dismissed as hype alone. In fact, Belo Horizonte’s innovations in food security helped pilot some of Brazil’s national Zero Hunger food security policies, which have contributed to unprecedented decreases in inequality and poverty in Brazil since 2004. And Belo Horizonte itself has seen dramatic drops in malnutrition, and increases in fruit and vegetable consumption, since its food security programs started in 1993.

The they Rubens celebrated for their possible lawsuit against the city—his employer—was an alliance of a local nonprofit and several community daycares. We were at the time being driven to one of the daycares in Belo Horizonte that received fresh food and meals through the city’s food security programs. These programs were managed under a unified Municipal Secretariat (or Department) of Food and Nutritional Security, which had partnered with some of the community-run daycares in the city almost from the secretariat’s start. But a number of daycares in lower-income areas felt that they had every right to access the daycare meal programs as well. So they coordinated with local NGOs and movements for daycare access to pressure the city to extend its partnerships beyond the limited initial number of daycares. For Rubens, the push indicated that the city’s message and the goal of the secretariat—to guarantee the right to food for all of its citizens—had been truly internalized by Belo Horizonte’s citizens. That some citizens had organized to force the city to fulfill its commitments was a good sign, and helped solidify the secretariat’s plans to extend its programs.

Our tour of the daycare complete, our guide offered to give several of us a ride back. Rubens casually mentioned in the car that our driver and guide had been one of the NGO leaders at the forefront of the lawsuit effort. Of course we sued them, she said. There is still a lot of work to do, and the daycares that are not part of the program [need the help], but we have made good progress working [with the secretariat]. Sometimes, you have to force the government to do the right thing. Rubens smiled.

Since that first trip in 2003, Belo Horizonte has been a major part of my life. Its extraordinary advances, and the barriers and limits to its successes, offer a unique lens through which to glimpse the potential to decisively end all hunger, everywhere. The fieldwork for this book was conducted primarily during four extended field seasons between 2003 and 2007, supplemented by three week-long study trips between 2010 and 2013. Interviews during my field research were supplemented with participant observation on local farms and in the offices of the Belo Horizonte government, as well as municipal documentation and the academic literature.²

At the daycare, while kids laughed and played, I read a Paulo Freire quote posted on the wall in marker: No one walks without learning how to walk; without learning how to make the path by walking it, retracing and re-dreaming the dream that bade them to walk in the first place (Freire 1997, 155).³ The sum of my efforts—the results of which you hold in your hands—is aimed at helping us make the path by walking it. And my efforts, of course, are in turn fundamentally built on the hard work and struggle of all of the citizens, organizations, movements, program staff, and policy makers behind Belo Horizonte’s programs.

The course to universal food security will never run smooth, but steps forward have and can be made. Belo Horizonte has walked a bit farther down the path than most. It remains to all of us to retrace, redream, and continue to forge the path by walking it, until hunger has well and truly been ended, in Belo Horizonte and beyond.


One might say that it takes a village to write a book. I cannot possibly name here all of the residents of the village who helped this book get completed, and so I ask the forbearance of any of my friends and family who are not called out individually, when all of them deserve to be. This book is the result of countless interactions, supportive conversations, constructive criticism, and the comradery and support of so many people. I hope any who were counting on seeing their names in the bright lights of an academic book acknowledgment section but were inadvertently omitted will nevertheless accept my sincere thanks, and as many hugs and/or beers as they would like.

I hope that the work you find now in your hands does justice to all the members of my village. If this book is exceptional in any measure, it is because of their support; if it is not, well. . . . I always thought it would be amusing for an acknowledgment section to finally and defiantly pass the buck. But honesty, not just convention, compels me to admit that any and all flaws are my responsibility, and likely reflect not heeding a bit of good advice from someone.

Among the Village-Who-Raised-This-Book, I specifically thank my parents, Betty and Michael, who have consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty, and my sister Aisha for her love, confidence, and support. Dr. Brown-Chappell, aka Dr. Mom, however, deserves an extra helping of thanks for taking on the role of unpaid assistant on several occasions.

My intellectual mentors have often gone above and beyond in their support as well, but none more so than John Vandermeer, my PhD committee chair and major professor. John has said he views his graduate students as being like his children; accordingly, he has been like a second father. His passion as a naturalist, ecologist, and critical activist, alongside his profound moral compass, have given me much to aspire to. Perhaps I’ll even get back to the math stuff someday.

Maria Carmen Lemos, Rodrigo Matta Machado, Ivette Perfecto, Cecilia Rocha, Jerry Smith, and Catherine Badgley have also been peerless mentors, critics, friends, and traveling companions. I could fill a book (as it were) with what I learned from each of them. I would like to acknowledge my singular debt to Cecilia, whose pioneering work on Belo Horizonte has been fundamental for my own. And Rodrigo’s mentorship, hospitality, and friendship were also endlessly helpful, up to and including his excellent recommendations for where to find good food and jazz in Beagá.

Thanks as well to other mentors and scholars who have made a deep impact on me, including Miguel Altieri, Rachel Bezner-Kerr, Joern Fischer, Eric Holt-Giménez, Steve Gliessman, Doug Gurian-Sherman, Frances Moore Lappé, Phil McMichael, Raj Patel, Peter Rosset, and Wendy Wolford.

Another important section of this book’s village is my PerfectaMeerkat Family. Indebted as I am to all of them for their friendship and comradery, I am particularly indebted to Katia Avilés Vázquez, Julie Cotton, Katie Goodall, Doug Jackson, Julie Jedlicka, Shalene Jha, Brenda Lin, Krista McGuire, Stacy Philpott, Lindsay Smith, Casey Taylor, Maria Whittaker, and Senay Yitbarek. I am thankful as well for the support and trust of the next generation of PerfectaMeerkats, including my own advisees Michael Lege, James Moore, Janel Skreen, Jude Wait, Becca Neville, and Amber Heckelman.

Thanks to the folks who helped make sure things ran smoothly during my PhD research, especially the staff of the UM Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Graduate office during my time there: Christy Byks-Jazayeri, Julia Eussen, Barb Klumpp, Gail Kuhnlein, Jane Sullivan, and LaDonna Walker; and to NWAEG Ann Arbor and the late Beverly Rathcke.

I thank Sunny Power and the Power Lab at Cornell University for their feedback and friendship, as well as all of NWAEG Cornell, and Cornell University’s Department of Science & Technology Studies, particularly Sara Pritchard, Stephen Hilgartner, and Darla Thompson.

In Brazil, um mil de thanks goes to the staff, past and present, of the Municipal Secretariat of Food Security, most especially to Zoraya Souza and Adilana Oliveira de Rocha, who gave essential support at practically every stage of this process, and are dear friends as well. I am thankful as well for the support and friendship of Paula, Dani, Jamil, Emil, Professor Gilberto, Adriana Aranha, and the late Moisés Machado. And my deepest thanks are due to all the Belo Horizonte–area farmers who agreed to be interviewed or let me work on their property.

Also in Brazil, thanks to Jacques Delabie and his group at the Laboratório de Mirmecologia at the Executive Commission for Cacao Production Planning for their welcome and help with ant identification. I am also grateful for the assistance of Felipe Casper Borges Peixoto, Daniel Sobota, Jason Goldstick (then at the University of Michigan Center for Statistical Consultation and Research), Ivanete Simões, and Evandro Silva, as well as Evandro’s family, Gilmara, Sabrina, and Juni, who twice graciously took me into their home.

With regards to the many people who have made this journey possible on a personal level and brought joy, laughter, and support into my life, I hazard to offer my particular thanks to Jeff Winokur; Ellecia, Elliot, Eva, and Cameron Williams; Justin Vidovic; Molly Thornbladh; Becky Taurog; Pam Stewart; Chris Smith; Amy Smith; Annie Shattuck and Mike Dwyer; Jemila Sequeira; Liz Saunders; Hilary Sarat-St.Peter; Karen Quiroz; Pat Purdy and Aislinn Williams; Dan, Sarah, and Robin Pezzat; Gail Patterson-Gladney; Chris, Steph, Ace, Jules, George, and Janet Olson; Chris, Shannon, and Connor Nitchie; Pavithra Narayanan; Laurie Mercier; Todd Meder; Ann Lurie; Tonda Liggett; Andrew Kraemer; Maya Jordan; Mandy Izzo and Bobby Reiner; Kate Hoff and Bob Weidman; Desiree Hellegers; Michelle Grace and Abhi Ghosh; Marcelo Diversi; Alison DeSimone; Cynthia Cooper; Katie Bucrek; Big Ben Brown; Louie Brennan; Jonathan Bearup and Millie Combs; Joe Bauer; and Dawn Banker. I thank as well Sharon Mudd, Kris Konz, Carly Gershone, and Dena Drasin, mental health professionals whose help made a tremendous impact as I dealt, and continue to deal, with the challenges of depression.

Thank you to the many reviewers, formal and informal, of various versions of this work, which includes many of those named above, as well as Annie Shattuck, Maywa Montenegro, Casey Taylor, Valentine Cadieux, Alastair Iles, Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, Hannah Wittman, Raj Patel, Priscilla Claeys, Dean Bavington, Rita Simone Barbosa Liberato, Ryan Isakson, David Meek, Nick Jackson, and Rob Wallace. Thanks as well to Maya Jordan for logistical support. Bradley Depew, Merrik Bush-Pirkle, Kate Marshall, and particularly Blake Edgar, editors (current and former) at UC Press, have been wonderfully supportive throughout the challenge of publishing my first book.

The research presented in this book benefited from support by the U.S. National Security Education Program’s David L. Boren Fellowship, the U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, and Washington State University’s Faculty Mini-Grant Program; along with the University of Michigan’s Rackham Merit Fellowship, Sokol International Research Fellowship, and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Block Grants.



Food and Famine Futures, Past and Present

The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.

—William Gibson (1999)

For me, speculative fiction author William Gibson’s quote evokes the dreams of a future of high technology: robots, smart homes, powerful personal gadgets, dinosaur-sized autonomous mechanical harvesters, and flying, self-driving cars. While the debates over the significance and implications of such technologies can veer into the abstract for those of us in the Minority World—a term coined by Bangladeshi artist Shahidul Alam (2008) to refer to the minority of the world’s population living in the richest countries—they might seem positively irrelevant to the billions of the world’s refugees, poor, violently oppressed, and disenfranchised.¹ The disconnect between technologies like these and the actual challenges facing the poor and the hungry might even strike some as a cruel joke.

However, the truth is that the future will be based not on the promises of whiz-bang technology, but on the more mundane features of the decisions our societies make about what we will do, how we will do it, and who will get to decide. That is, our future fates are based on our institutions. Institutions, as a technical term, refers to the rules prevalent in a society. They are essentially about how we run our lives individually and collectively, and the many conscious, and unconscious, mechanics underneath the surface. Our ancestors would likely be just as shocked at these institutional foundations of our current societies as they would be at the tools and technology that support them. Institutions, in this way, are as much the stuff of sci-fi fantasy as bleeding-edge plant breeding techniques and the Dick Tracy wrist-radio/watches some of us now wear on our wrists.

Despite the core functions that institutions embody, they are definitely not what first comes to mind for most people when they think of the Matrix trilogy. The Wachowskis’ turn-of-the-twentieth-century cinematic series is remembered more as a lead-in to a new age of computer-augmented special-effects action and elaborately choreographed martial arts set pieces. For some (me excluded) it is remembered as disappointing and artistically unsuccessful. Rarely appreciated is that the series undermined some of the typical tropes of Hollywood and contemporary capitalist society more broadly. The Matrix movies are some of the few films that are fundamentally about institutions, and not just about the good and bad people in them. This is an important distinction, as changes in institutions are fundamental to the core story of this book: how the food security policies of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, show us how we may begin to end hunger.

The plot of The Matrix and its sequels revolves around a dystopian future where humans have been completely subjugated by sentient machines. The human race, save for a small resistance, are trapped in a virtual reality simulating late twentieth-century Earth. In order to keep humans docile and amenable to the deception, there are multiple systems of control. These extend beyond the virtual Matrix and into schemes-within-schemes by the oppressive Machines. Importantly, the Machines have contingencies deployed such that those humans who wake up from the Matrix, or try to do so, end up playing into a larger cycle designed to control human rebels in the real world, channeling otherwise unpredictable human tendencies into a repeated pattern of rebellion, defeat, and reinsertion into new versions of the system of control the Matrix represents. All that said, over the course of the movies, we learn that the Machines are not necessarily villains. They, too, are trying—and have a right—to survive.

So while Western popular culture has long focused on individual choice and the characteristics of singular bad guys and good guys, the Wachowskis’ trilogy puts these choices in the context of people’s (and machines’) interactions with institutions—that is to say, of their interactions with the underlying mechanics of social behavior. As used by social scientists, the term institutions is used to group together the norms, rules, and values behind our actions and reactions. There are numerous examples of institutions at work in our everyday lives, from our conceptions of a nuclear family to how to behave in public, how we drive (or don’t), and the natures of our schools and workplaces. These structures map out a lot of our actions so that we don’t have to think consciously about our behavior every moment and in every social situation. For a broad range of institutions, we have internalized their dictates to the extent that we rarely question or even notice them.

This is not to say that the written and unwritten rules of institutions don’t change. They can gradually evolve, or be changed rapidly as individuals and groups resist, ignore, or enforce any particular set of institutions. To illustrate, let’s briefly consider the institution of marriage. The meaning of marriage has changed fairly significantly over the past decades and centuries, particularly in the Minority World. The expectations and practices built around the putative superiority husbands hold over their wives have thankfully declined in many places, increasingly (if fitfully) replaced by a sense of the romantic joining of equals. The increasing acceptance of same-sex marriages aligns well with this latter sense, but clashes with some of the rules, norms, and values understood as traditional (and either unchanged or unchangeable) by others. At the same time, many common elements extend across differing understandings of marriage. Some broad, but not universal, norms for marriage include assumptions of sexual fidelity, cohabitation, and coparenting children. Any one of these need not hold for a particular marriage, but just as for any other rulebook or tradition, such differences are widely recognized as varying from mainstream expectations (regardless of whether those expectations are thought to be positive, negative, or neutral).

This book, however, is precisely about positive deviations from the norm: changing the rulebooks around food from where they are now to where we need them to be if we are to end hunger. Referring to just such a gap, one of the peer reviewers for an article by geographer Jesse Ribot suggested that the institutions, processes and forums that could enable the fundamental changes you call for do not yet exist. Ribot responded:

They do exist in some places at some times for some people. . . . If we, as analysts or activists, insist on requiring that all interventions enable democracy, and we insist this demand be enforced, we may help force the hand of practice. . . . I do not want to act or be in a world that does not try. Democracy is an ongoing struggle. It is not a state to be arrived at. It will come and go in degrees. Trying is the struggle that produces emancipatory moments—however ephemeral they may be. The fleeting joy and creativity of freedom seem worth it. (2014, 698)

Important institutions, such as nation-states, human rights, public education, and gender equality, have never been instantly and evenly distributed worldwide. They all started as an idea among a smaller number of people that went on to influence and shape billions. It is the same with hunger, where the future institutions we need are in many ways already here, if in imperfect forms.


Não sou otimista babaca, mas otimista ativo.

—Herbert de Souza, quoted in Helvecia (1994)

This quote from the late Brazilian sociologist Herbert Betinho de Souza came to my attention in one of the first analyses of the food policies of the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil (BH)—the subject of this book and the site of a set of important and futuristic institutions (figure 1). In this analysis by Adriana Aranha, a former BH administrator, she quotes Betinho’s statement that I’m not some stupid optimist. Rather, he assured us, I’m an active optimist.

FIGURE 1. View of the lookout in the Mangabeiras neighborhood in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, ©bcorreabh / Adobe Stock 2017.

Aranha used the quote to begin her master’s thesis analyzing Belo Horizonte’s programs, which she had helped shape and implement over the previous years. I happen to like it, too. Betinho gets at the most fundamental element of ending hunger: an activist optimism that demands we take on the notion that hunger can be ended. In the vein of Betinho, this book sets out to show that active optimists can bring about a future without hunger, by respecting, improving, and more evenly spreading the institutions to make it possible.

In the United States, it sometimes feels like active optimism—insisting on not only the possibility of change but also its urgent necessity—is taken to be synonymous with being a self-righteous ass.² Our politics and philosophies are often shrunk down to the idea that our only power lies in our consumption choices—buying our way to a more just and sustainable world—without acknowledging that, among other things, this literally defines away the power of the poorest to change the system. In elevating the consumer to fill or replace the role of citizen, it relegates citizenship—not just voting, but organizing, protesting, resisting, and agitating—to the margins. Achieving change becomes the responsibility of the comfortable, who as a matter of course question neither the basis of their comfort nor whether changing their consumption patterns represents change enough.

Indeed, and next we’ll solve world hunger has long been used to take know-it-alls down a peg: "We’ll do what you say, right after we do this thing that is effectively impossible." Such fatalism, matched with images past and present of starvation around the world, has fixed the idea that hunger and starvation are inevitable and insoluble. I won’t try to convince you that this idea is bandied about to justify continued hunger in and of itself. But neither will I rationalize the deprivation and repression that exist alongside food surpluses. Rather, without being cynical, a rational analysis of current food policy and the history of its development and distribution must consider how such notions have often been applied. We must recognize that the stories we tell ourselves often circulate not because they are true, but because they are useful in maintaining political systems that many of us would otherwise question.

Indeed, any rational analysis of policies and possibilities, whether of food systems or more broadly, must consider questions of epistemology, or the nature of knowing. How do I know what I think I know? If what I think I know is wrong, what does that mean for what the correct policies and processes might be? And if there are errors or incompleteness around what I thought I knew, why? Cui bono? Who benefits from this?

Obviously, this is not the place for a complete survey of the field of epistemology. But a broad appreciation of the importance and implications of its concepts is vital. Food policies, as we will see, have too often been based on things that we think we know but that don’t hold up under scrutiny. So when we engage in a careful examination of the big picture, we often cut against the stories broadcast across mainstream media and transmitted even by many a researcher who should know better. We are led to the necessity, then, of grappling with epistemology. Only then can we figure out how to reconcile what we believed we knew about food, what conflicting sources tell us, and what we may be called on to know tomorrow.

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