The United States is, by far, the world’s largest international food-aid donor. Almost every year since the 1950s, it has been responsible for more than 50 percent of the billions of tons of food shipped from the parts of the world with a surplus to the parts of the world that are hungry. This episode, we ask: How did this situation come about, given that America spent its first 150 years of nationhood arguing against feeding people overseas? And, more importantly, is shipping sacks of corn from American ports really the best way to help people in need around the world? Listen in as we explore the curious story of how the United States started giving food—and why it’s so hard to stop.
Every December, Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” rings out at malls and holiday parties across the United States and the United Kingdom. But that earworm of a song was actually originally written in response to the devastating famine in Ethiopia in the early 1980s—and it’s far from the famine’s only legacy. Both the hunger and the relief effort were so enormous that they defined a generation, and forced a major reevaluation of how food aid works. After Ethiopia, many countries decided that handing out cash or vouchers was a cheaper, quicker, and more effective way to feed the hungry, as opposed to literally giving food. Experts began to focus on whether the food itself was the right kind—whether it contained the right mix of nutrients to help malnourished kids recover. And an increasing number of governments refocused their aid efforts exclusively on emergency relief, rather than development.