$6 Billion dollars to help solve world hunger is no small sum, and it would be truly meaningful. But it’s going to take a lot more than money to tackle a problem as complex as world hunger.
Watching the dialogue between Elon Musk and David Beasley play out on Twitter last week really got me thinking. I think there’s a real opportunity here to work toward some solutions. The fact that this important conversation is happening in a public forum, rather than behind closed doors, is also crucial. Elon says he’s game to contribute – but only if the World Food Programme’s plan includes an “open source accounting” on how the money is being spent. It’s a fair ask, but also a difficult one based on the enormity of the problem both are interested in solving.
So, how do we solve world hunger? Let’s break it down:
1. Recognize That Hunger Is a Symptom of Poverty – If you want to meaningfully tackle hunger, you must try to solve for why people find themselves without food in the first place.
2. Pay People More – Over the past 30+ years, income inequality has increased exponentially by almost any measure you look at it. We’ve seen steep rises in the cost of housing, healthcare, education, transportation, and food – all while wages have remained relatively stagnant. No one should be forced to choose between paying their rent or putting food on the table for their families. Yet every day we see hardworking people failing to make ends meet, while billionaires continue to pay even less in taxes.
3. Reduce Food Waste – According to ReFed, the US produced $408 Billion in surplus food. 2% of that was donated to food banks. 28% of it was recycled. And a whopping 70% ($285B) of food was wasted. So yes, Elon’s $6B would be nice, but maybe we also try to take advantage of the $285B of surplus food produced in the US alone.
4. Increase the Safety Net – Did you know that 12% of the US population is on SNAP benefits? 45% of those receiving benefits are in working families. The US is one of the few nations that has a system in place to help provide food for those struggling. Unfortunately, these social benefits seem to be on the chopping block every few years when the Farm Bill comes up for a vote. Today, SNAP benefits equal about $157 / person / month – or roughly $5 /person / day. That’s not a whole heck of a lot of support.
5. Localize Your Diet – Unlike the US, many countries don’t have the abundance of choice when it comes to food. Locally sourced has become an upcharge on most food items. Instead of pouring billions of dollars into the cost of transportation, refrigeration, packaging, and labor, let’s invest this funding in vertical and rooftop farms. Bring the food closer to the people who will ultimately be consuming it. And while we’re at it, it would be nice if US farm subsidies covered fruits and vegetables (current subsidies cover <1%).
6. Improve Access to Nutritious Food – About 19 million Americans live in food deserts – that is to say more than 1 mile away from a grocery store in an urban area and more than 10 miles away in a rural area. In low-income communities, access to healthy food becomes scarce. Many of these communities can be classified as BIPOC and are consistently underserved when it comes to getting these essential resources. These same communities often have an abundance of fast-food restaurants, which may provide calories, but also contribute to obesity.
7. Lower The Cost Of Doing Business – You can ask companies to pay more taxes to help fund better social safety nets, and they should. However, we also need to find a way to reduce the bureaucracy, litigation, and red tape to make the global economy work more effectively. We must find a way to drive down the costs of things like healthcare, housing, etc.. while also incentivizing businesses (big and small) to pay their employees more.
The work that organizations, like Move For Hunger and World Food Programme, is critical to addressing the growing needs of those struggling with hunger. Billionaires like Elon Musk are entitled to question how their gifts are being used to solve problems. This problem is a complicated one involving multiple stakeholders. But if we’re going to truly address it – we need to stop treating hunger as an issue that can be solved by charity alone.
I encourage David and Elon to continue this dialogue, publically, and use your influence to bring together the right stakeholders that can create change (and quickly). Maybe Jack Dorsey will even help keep it at the top of our Twitter feeds for a few days – what do you say, Jack? $6 Billion is a start and will help stop more individuals from falling through the cracks, but it’s going to take a lot more than money to end world hunger.
PS - Elon - If you'd like to donate $1M to Move For Hunger, we'll use the funds to provide better transportation and cold chain infrastructure in getting fresh produce to food banks. Also, I'll bring receipts :)