How Food Aid is Like a Drug

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Oxfam. What’s Wrong With Our Food System?.

Having previously learned anatomy and physiology while studying nursing, this crash course in systems theory reminded me of the complicated interconnections of the inner workings of the human body. When Western medicine attempts to use drugs as proxies to replace, enhance, or repress failing systems without looking holistically at the patient, while the patient may get some relief, the system is not cured and so the problem persists.

Oxfam America. Food Insecurity: Let’s Talk About Hunger.


Relating this to political ecology, we can look at a system as if it is a human body. In the world food system, for example, focusing exclusively on food aid to locations suffering starvation is akin to giving a drug to a patient. Food aid is a stopgap, but it does not fix the problem. People face hunger and starvation because of a multitude of political, social, and environmental factors that cannot be addressed separately. Reducing starvation to a simple lack of food assumes a linear causality that ignores the systemic issues that lead to food scarcity. The same logic can be applied to poverty, while poverty can be described as a lack of sufficient money; it is the political and institutional inequalities that hold people and nations in poverty and lead to hunger and malnutrition.


Political ecology emphasizes that we cannot take a Malthusian view of pure numbers when tackling environmental issues and food scarcity. This emerging field of study challenges us to take account for all the complexities of a global ecology and its interconnected systems. In order to feed and support our growing population we, as humans, need to shift our focus to more systemic solutions to our global problems. Rather than imposing restrictive policy on developing nations, the developed world must support nation building through funding access to healthcare, education, sustainable power and farming technology, clean water, sanitation, and all the social determinants of life that actually contribute to the overall health of people, societies, and the environment.


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