Threats to security are not just measured in missiles, armies and terrorists. Political and economic turmoil can also be overwhelming.
That’s why fighting hunger and thirst is no longer just a challenge for aid workers. The scale of the global crisis is so great that hunger now represents a threat.
Don’t take a chef’s word for it. Over the past decade or so, the US intelligence community assessed the likely impact of global food and water insecurity.
The agencies predicted a world, right around now, when water shortages and floods would “risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions.”
The time has come for us all to prioritise food in our public policy — at home and internationally.
Consider one of the most divisive factors in politics today, both in the United States and in Europe: immigration from the Global South.
What is driving so many families to risk their lives on perilous journeys through the jungle, across rivers or on the open seas?
Violence and lack of opportunity are nothing new in the Western Hemisphere. Though they are clearly factors in the surge to the US southern border, there is something new about what is moving so many people today.
That is food. To be precise: malnutrition, hunger and food price inflation.
Three years ago, the majority of migrants came from the Northern Triangle countries: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Now, most migrants at our border come from other countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua and Cuba.
What ties these countries together?
Cuba is suffering extraordinary food shortages and price hikes. About three-quarters of Venezuelans live on less than $1.90 a day, which, economists say, is nowhere near enough to feed one person, never mind a family. In some regions of Nicaragua, almost 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 has chronic malnutrition.
I could tell you the same stories about the Northern Triangle countries a few years ago. Or I could tell you about the Honduran family we fed as they sheltered under a bridge in McAllen, Texas. They recognised the logo of World Central Kitchen, the non-profit, because it had fed them in Honduras the year before, when back-to-back hurricanes wiped out their farm.
As severe drought devastates crops across South America, the World Food Programme recently warned that “the whole continent is on the move.”
We cannot build a wall high enough to stop the army of mothers with hungry children in their arms.
Our problem is not that we lack the resources or know-how to relieve these unbearable pressures. Our problem is that we lack focus.
The United States spends around $25 billion a year on Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Texas alone wants to spend $4 billion on the border.
That’s what the United States spends on feeding the whole planet through the World Food Programme in a normal year. It’s four times what the administration proposes to spend on stabilising the democracies and economies of Central America to help stop migration.
Food is not just an existential challenge beyond our borders. In the United States, about half of the adult population either has diabetes or is prediabetic. Two in five adults are obese. Last year, supplies of baby formula collapsed because of contamination at one factory, and the shortages endure.
The Government Accountability Office recently found that the federal government leads 200 different efforts across 21 different agencies to improve our diets. Yet US still cannot match the farming subsidies to its nutritional needs.
Everybody and nobody is in charge of food.
Food can be the solution to multiple crises: from our health to our climate, from immigration to global security. But only if we think differently and prioritise our food.
The global food systems are broken, and it urgently needs structural change.
Jose Andres is a chef and founder of the new Global Food Institute at George Washington University.