Food supply, missles, it’s all weapons.

While doing research for a piece of writing set in the 1940s, I came across a fascinating 1941 article in Time. It explored the ways that Hitler and Stalin used food to reward the “warrior caste” and demoralize others.

The point wasn’t the individual fighter or the enemy prisoner, but entire populations being controlled by availability and cost of food.

OK, so I usually don’t think of food as potential weapons or rewards. (Beyond the Hershey Bar that usually awaits me when I tick off enough items on my to-do list.)

But the Time article got me wondering about food supplies, politics and power.

Government restrict/reward policy is not a new idea, of course. There’s been plenty of news lately on the fights over vending-machine content in public schools, and there’s recurring debate over restrictions on food-stamp purchases.

(The whole idea of telling poor people what they can buy makes me nuts—step away from the fresh potato salad–but that’s another post for another day.)

Now a news story out of Orange County, Calif., has been getting play, all about the huge number of people there who need food-bank help. Try 615,000-plus. Up from 450,000 over the last three years.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying any part of this is anywhere near as horrific as Third Reich or Stalinist strategies. Nor am I a rabid conspiracy theorist, imagining a group of government officials meet in a room somewhere and decide to cheat Americans out of their Constitutional right to bear bags of pork rinds.

But it does give one pause. When a government’s hunger programs are so flaccid that 615,000 people have to turn to nonprofit food banks, is that a shortfall or a policy?

Even if we go the benefit-of-the-doubt route and blame it all on the economy swamping the system with more needy folks. Or cite a combination of unemployment and high gas prices and fear of contaminated sprouts. Well, still…when 165,000 more people came on a county’s need-food list in three years, it can’t really be a surprise, right?

Whether it’s intended or not, a system that allows widening of the gap between the have-eats and the have-nots, at its heart, is using food as a frightening kind of currency.


–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett


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