Drawing on United Nations data and other comparable sources, RealTimeStatistics estimates there are over 1 billion people on this planet who are undernourished and over 1.1 billion people who are overweight. Though we can quibble about precisely how to define and measure concepts like “undernourished” and “overweight”, there is little doubt that the distribution of food and other resources on this planet is grossly inequitable. There is also little doubt that the consequences of over-consumption (whether you look at public health impacts or ecological impacts) are as serious as the consequences of under-consumption (i.e., poverty). Moreover, the two are intimately connected.
Readers of this blog are more likely to fall on the affluent rather than impoverished end of the population continuum – as do I. Given our materially privileged positions, how can we most effectively exercise agency to address these imbalances? The default response for many who feel a twinge of guilt about their relative affluence tends to be charity: toss some money in “their” direction so we can sleep better at night knowing we made a small sacrifice to relieve distant suffering.
While acts of charity can reflect genuine compassion, and can sometimes make a difference in the lives of a few, the primary beneficiaries of charity are often the givers rather than the receivers. Real and lasting solutions to the problems of inequity require much deeper commitments, and significant sacrifices, closer to home. In this context, the questions we would do well to ask ourselves include: How does my lifestyle impact the well-being of distant others? How do the organizations I work in, or participate in, impact the well-being of distant others? How do the policies of the governments I help elect impact the well-being of distant others? How do I need to change, what do I need sacrifice, and where do I need to direct my time and energy, if I truly care about the well-being of distant others?
We all live in a web of global interdependencies. Agency and change begin by examining how our own pull on that web affects the well-being of distant others.