The Geopolitics of Hunger and NGOs

Joseph Lee, T'04 Spanish, Duke University

Fall 2003

The founder of Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy declared, "Nutrition is not a discipline, it is an agenda." [1]   So, too, however is the work for hunger -- from Stalin's "terror-famine" in Ukraine [2] to Milosevic's ban on 27 staple foods in Kosovo Albanians' shops. [3]   This course will explore the politics of hunger from complicity in how food stamp and welfare policies are created to intra-household food distribution to the purposeful creation of famine for political and even genocidal ends. [4]   There are no longer natural famines.  Politics, very simply, affect hunger.  Of course, "this finding is no longer shocking," [5] as have noted Ellen Messer and Laurie DeRose in relation to the political use of food aid; however, we will seek a deeper study and a better understanding of the politics at play.  With 786 million food poor people in the world, [6] these questions transcend disciplines and continue to be paramount, even if sometimes ignored, in politics and policy.

            To best undertake this exploration the class will be divided into five interlocking segments:

1.    The global causes of hunger -- famine caused by politics or by population and environmental factors.  This fundamental discussion begins the class with the polemic of how politics affect the perception of hunger.

2.    The mechanics of using hunger for political ends.  This section, which could be titled "how to do things with hunger," uses specific examples to illustrate how hunger has been and is being used for geopolitical goals.

3.    The political aspects of humanitarian aid and the emergence of the "new humanitarianism," we will explore how those working against hunger find themselves in precarious positions of complicity with prolonging conflict, lost neutrality, and government manipulation.

4.    Rights to food and their manifestation through food stamps and welfare programs, what shapes the public policy against hunger and is there a universal human right to food?  Is there are dark side to food banks?

5.    The power of image and invisibility in working both for and against hunger, "famine denied is famine concealed,"[7] but what role do the media play? How is image used against hunger?  How is image manipulated for hunger and power? 

Additionally, several professors will be asked to bring their own insights and research to the class.  Intra-class dynamics will include small amounts of outside research in the form of finding related current events, presentations of the material by groups, and discussion. 


Welcome and Course Details


Segment One: How Politics Affect the Perception of Hunger


Segment Two: Hunger as Power


Segment Three: The "New Humanitarianism" and [Post-] Modern Crises


Segment Four: A Universal Chicken in Every Pot?


Segment Five: "A Deep Pastiche of Images" -- Representing or Denying Hunger

[1] "Programs of Study." <>. 10 Oct 2002.

[2] Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. 4.

[3] Mason, Frances and Kathryn Ogden. "The Tragedy of Kosovo." The Geopolitics of Hunger, 2000-2001: Hunger and Power. Ed. Action Against Hunger. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001. Page 123.

[4] Indirectly following Stanley Fish, if "there's no such thing as free speech," there is no such thing as a natural famine.

[5] Messer, Ellen and Laurie F. DeRose. "Food Shortage." Who's Hungry? And How Do We Know?. Eds. DeRose, Laurie F., Ellen Messer, and Sara Millman.  Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1998. 81.

[6] DeRose, Laurie F. "Food Poverty." Ibid., 121.  Food poor is defined as there not being enough food for everyone at the household level.

[7] Vidal, Jean-François. "The Great Lakes: Avoiding an Ethnic Reading." The Geopolitics of Hunger, 2000-2001: Hunger and Power. Ed. Action Against Hunger. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001. Page 27.