Hunger and the Heartland
Driving through the countryside on a crisp autumn day, it’s easy to take food for granted. Huge, hulking combines lumber through the fields, harvesting corn turned golden yellow by the sun and soybeans that can be used to produce everything from oil to tofu. Iowa, one of the top food-producing states in America, is a cornucopia where the anguished, slow death of starvation seems a remote possibility, as distant as the lands in which it’s a daily occurrence.
What better place to call attention to world hunger than in the land of plenty? That’s one of the goals of the World Food Prize Foundation, which exists in large part due to the generosity of John Ruan II and the inspiration of Dr. Norman Borlaug. Called the Nobel Prize for agriculture, the World Food Prize celebrates the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity and availability of the world’s food supply.
This year’s World Food Prize laureate, U.N. Undersecretary General Catherine Bertini, helped save millions of people from starvation and death during her decade of leadership at the World Food Programme. During that time, the World Food Programme saved more people from starvation and death than any other organization in the world.
The awarding of the prize is a highlight during October, proclaimed by Gov. Tom Vilsack as a monthlong World Food Prize Harvest Festival. But the prize is only a symbol of what former Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, the foundation’s director, hopes to accomplish with the World Food Prize laureate ceremony, the World Food Prize International Symposium, the Global Youth Institute and the more than 200 events scheduled during October to raise awareness of hunger and celebrate Iowa’s role in curbing it.
He envisions a day when the World Food Prize Foundation has its own home in the building that currently houses the central branch of the Public Library of Des Moines, when the story of Iowans and others who have helped end hunger is told through exhibits and displays, when the world recognizes Des Moines, Iowa, as the home of the World Food Prize, just as Stockholm, Sweden, is associated with the Nobel Prizes.
In Iowa, where the vast majority of residents worry little about hunger because of the abundance of food, we should worry about hunger. The transformed library space will speak to Iowa’s role in ending the killer that is food shortages. It deserves our support, financially and philosophically.