The Amazing Benefits Of Feeding The Hungry
A commonly diagnosed social issue to revolutionize, among those who look to diagnose these ills, is the lack of community in modern society. People don’t know their neighbors. People don’t trust their law enforcement. People don’t attend social events. People don’t communicate with people whose opinions differ from theirs. People eat alone, and they eat junk.
A personal fantasy of mine is a world in which everybody, for every meal, has the option to go to a pay-as-you-can-style cafeteria where talking with other people is encouraged, the food is exciting, varied, and delectable, and the economic incentive of running a place is convincing.* The meal as a community event has been a part of human society for eons.
Serfs would attend great feasts held by their Lords. Muslim and Sikh traditions have provisions for free food to be provided to the poor. Food Not Bombs satellite organizations feed people as a humanistic act and a symbolic act to defy the convention that ‘there is no such thing as a free meal’. Food distribution isn’t always from a place of charity. State funded food distribution is more about placation.
Sufficient nutrition and hydration can do a lot to stop a popular uprising. So when corporate capitalism suddenly sucks a significant amount of wealth out of a public, through economic fluctuations or corruption, the rich have historically recognized the importance of feeding the hungry. There might be compassion involved but it’s naive to assume that the greater driver of this ‘charity’ hasn’t been to avoid the violent retribution of a hungry public. The French aristocracy weren’t killed for a lack of cake. The French peasantry wanted bread. During the famine in mid-1800’s Ireland the British supplemented their Poor Laws with a Temporary Relief Act to placate a starving public. One million Irish died in the famine but the aristocracy’s concerns about revolution were averted. This type of poverty relief is intended to stave off discontent and give supposed philanthropist some philanthro for their public profile.
There is a stigma on being the recipient of aid among people who don’t require explicit aid to survive. This stigma isn’t just held by those who benefit from it. A lot of marginalized communities internalize feelings of inferiority based on their material success. One of the benefits of my community-cafeteria concept would be that poor and rich would eat together, converse together, and build intersectional relationships. This type of intersectional relationship building is already happening in small restaurants and coffeeshops around the world that always offer a pay-as-you-can or a pay-it-forward meal. However, these concepts still create a split between those who can afford whatever they want and those who must take whatever they can get.
If, as I assume, the benefit of this idea is that people from different social strata meet on a social-field of equal dignity, it is important for the recipients of free food to feel as though their meal is their choice and earned. The Kansas City Community Kitchen is a space where people in need of a free meal can receive table-service and their choice from a menu. It’s also encouraged that anyone can eat at the kitchen, this allows people from different socioeconomic classes to eat together in a restaurant-style that is generally unattainable for many of the kitchen’s clientele. On the converse side of this, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has an everybody-eats policy. The owner, Vimala, asks that people who can afford to donate into a Food for All fund and that people who can’t afford the food inform the waitstaff. The restaurant’s motto is “When Vimala cooks, everybody eats”.
My fantasy has been actuated in communities worldwide by entrepreneurs and philanthropists with kind motives. Food Not Bombs has been serving people free, vegan food since the ‘80s partially in a battle to overcome the capitalist conception of valuing people by their wealth. People who have their needs met are more capable of contributing their energy and talents to society and the visionaries who dedicate their efforts to feeding people contribute to the benefit of society in uncountable avenues by freeing up the time and energy of those in need. There may be a darker, exploitative side to feeding would-be revolutionaries but, as entrepreneurs like Vimala have taken advantage of, that same act can revolutionize society and make the world a more just place.
*I’ve theorized on this a lot. The cafeteria could receive a reimbursement and operating budget based upon attendance of the cafeteria and satisfaction. Their could be several ventures in any one community and health competition between them but this reward structure is also in a world where incentive structures are different and community benefit is its own reward.
Featured Image: Kansas City Community Kitchen