DAYTON, Ohio — Food, music and social justice – stir them together and you have WhyHunger’s recipe for a just food system that empowers local communities all around the globe to develop their very own sustainable, healthy food projects.
Noreen Springstead, Managing Director of New York-based nonprofit WhyHunger, recently took the time to share with The Borgen Project what this remarkable organization is doing to address problems of inequality and access to nutritious food in the United States and abroad.
Springstead says one thing has always been present throughout her 22 years with the charity – a real passion for music. “At the heart of it all was connecting artists in a meaningful way to local community organizations that were fighting hunger and poverty in the cities where those artists were touring.”
She recalls that even in 1992, WhyHunger was already working on the tours of big name artists like Bruce Springsteen, Shania Twain and Natalie Merchant.
WhyHunger formally inaugurated the Artists Against Hunger & Poverty program in 1995 and a happy marriage of musical talent and food justice has been growing ever since.
Springstead reveals that even as an undergraduate studying Political Science at Rutgers University, she always looked at the issue of hunger from a social justice perspective. Subsequently, throughout her time with WhyHunger, she says that she has become even more aware of how complex food justice really is and the degree of change that must take shape across the entire spectrum of the food system.
“Change is needed from the people that grow the food to those that cook it to those that serve it. There is a real justice component that needs to be looked at,” Springstead states. “I’ve always come to the work from that point of view: that we need to really get to root causes.”
These root causes, according to Springstead, include the state of modern agribusiness and issues of access to nutritious food.
“There is a high concentration of power in big, industrial agriculture that basically dictates the food that we’re eating. And most of it is highly processed food that is really wreaking havoc on people’s health,” Springstead observes.
“The access issues around healthy foods, whether in rural America or inner cities, are big problems as well,” she continues. “The flip side is that there are lots of opportunities through small-scale sustainable agriculture and sustainable food solutions that could provide a great alternative to that highly industrialized model.”
This is where WhyHunger’s Grassroots Action Network comes into play. The program is not just some charitable feeding model, says Springstead. It is focused on tapping into the power and the dignity of the people on the ground that are living in poverty in order to transform their own lives and their communities.
Springstead points out that this innovative, on-the-ground work is the root of everything WhyHunger stands for; it is what sets the four star charity apart from typical anti-hunger organizations.
When selecting which community partners to work with, WhyHunger seeks qualitative depth in relationships.
“We look for real innovators, leaders on the ground and people who are really rooted in community. People who are not just coming in and dropping themselves into a place like the Mississippi Delta and saying ‘here’s how you should solve your problems.’ We work with communities to tap into their own power for that change. Its long-term work, but in the end it will bring the most rewarding change.”
Springstead says her proudest accomplishment so far with the nonprofit has been the global Imagine There’s No Hunger campaign.
“It speaks very much to our identity as an organization, with music as part of who we are. We work with Yoko Ono and utilize the power of John Lennon’s iconic song ‘Imagine’ to be a force for good in the world,” she explains.
Through Imagine There’s No Hunger, WhyHunger has been able to develop a partnership with Hard Rock International. The global company mobilizes their waiters, bartenders, hosts and management teams throughout their 189 operations in 58 countries to raise money and awareness at the end of every year.
The focus of Imagine There’s No Hunger is on providing nutritious meals for children in the context of community food programs. This allows communities in the 20 countries where WhyHunger operates to get the food they need for today while also addressing their long term food security challenges.
Since 2008, Imagine There’s No Hunger has helped grow enough food to provide 9.7 million nutritious meals to kids all around the world. Moreover, the funds and training provided by the project supports the infrastructure for small-scale, local farming projects.
“Through this campaign we wanted to create something different and transformative beyond just feeding children. Almost 10 million meals and thousands of people trained in sustainable food production is a really amazing feat in six short years,” states Springstead.
“That gives me hope that it is entirely possible to use these local food solutions to create access and nutrition and support. So many people around the world are peasant farmers – there is a way forward that is different from what we’ve been doing.”
Looking into the coming years, Springstead says that WhyHunger is excited to continue bringing much-needed change to the food system. One way will be to make breakthroughs with younger musical artists, given their extensive reach on social media and direct interaction with fans.
“We would be looking to find a new artist that carries the torch of Harry Chapin and Bruce Springsteen, and someone that is really into understanding that the food system is complex and that there should be a real awareness around food choices, nutrition and where your food comes from. I’m quite sure there’s an artist out there,” Springstead states.
“Information leads to power and action,” she summarizes, recommending that anyone interested follow the organization on Facebook (WhyHungerFans) and Twitter (@whyhunger), and sign up for the organization’s newsletter.
Interested readers can also join the WhyHunger giving circle, where even a donation of $5 each month will help support a more just, sustainable, accessible and nutritious food system.
– Kayla Strickland
Sources: Phone Noreen Springstead