This month, Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan. In addition to its copious spiritual and personal benefits, the month provides an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the notion of freedom from hunger, and the extent to which the right to food is met locally, nationally, and internationally.
Minnesota struggles to feed its own. According to the Almanac of Hunger and Poverty in America, Minnesota is ranked the sixth most food-insecure state in the country. Food security and food insecurity are terms that measure the prevalence of hunger and the risk of starvation in a given area. States can achieve food security by eliminating barriers to food that limit accessibility.
Barriers to food include extreme poverty among low-income households, as well as insufficient state mechanisms that address this concern. Three-fourths of those who seek food from food banks live in subsidized housing, and two-thirds earn less than $1,000 a month. At times, food is not financially accessible, nor is it physically accessible to persons in impoverished communities, which disproportionally lack supermarkets. A study by the University of Connecticut based on 21 metropolitan areas found that there are two-thirds more supermarkets in high-income neighborhoods than in low-income neighborhoods. This “grocery gap” in more impoverished communities particularly affects children and people of color and presents a physical barrier to food. Food accessibility also impacts elderly, children, and disabled persons. Residents in these communities are forced to purchase food from small venues, such as convenience and grocery stores, or if transportation permits, they find the nearest supermarket. The small, neighborhood venues are often more expensive and lack fresh produce or variety.
The quickest way to get food in Minnesota is through humanitarian organizations or food banks. Among food bank patrons, 47% of adults and 14% of children are forced to miss meals since the need for food exceeds the amount food banks are able to provide. Another resource is the Minnesota Food Support Program, which provides food assistance for low income persons. Applicants who are earning an income are required to report to the program once a month. While the program serves a great purpose, the arduous reporting creates barriers for some. For example, prospective clients are required to apply in person or must send a representative. This requirement poses an obstacle for working individuals and parents who must either miss work, find a babysitter, or find a representative. If the individual has not earned any income for that period, the reporting occurrence is reduced to once a year. Additionally, there is a three month limit within any thirty-six month period for “able-bodied adults” who do not work 20 hours a week. For those who do not qualify, the burden is placed on non-profits and food banks to reconcile the inadequacy.
The Almanac of Hunger and Poverty in America also shows that approximately 35 million persons endure food insecurity nation-wide. Programs, such as the federal Food Stamp Program, are insufficient in addressing the needs of their clients. The average meal under this program has an equivalent cost of a mere 99 cents. This assistance hardly constitutes a meal. On a global front, various circumstances have materialized into an all out world food crisis. Millions face famine as prices for food continue to increase and shortages continue to grow. This grim reality presents an unfortunate violation of basic human rights, and the high price of food has a tremendously negative effect on political stability. The President of the World Bank recently argued that over thirty countries are on the brink of social discord as a direct result of increasing food prices and the prevalence of hunger.
Hunger continues to exist locally, nationally, and internationally. The right to food is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but freedom from hunger is not only a right in and of itself. Sustenance, particularly the right to adequate food, is the foundation of many other social and political rights. The absence of this right creates a barrier to political development and social progress. The right to food ought to be addressed more frequently, and attempts to honor this right should be approached from a human rights lens.
 The State of Hunger in Minnesota. Hunger Solutions/Wilder Research; Survey of Food Shelves 2006. Hunger Partners; Quarterly food shelf reports, 2006.
 Right to Food in Minnesota and the United States. Human Rights Education Tool kit. The Advocates for Human Rights, 2007.
 State of the States 2007: A Profile of Food and Nutrition Programs across the Nation. Food and Research Center. www.frac.org. June 2007.