Defend right to life by feeding the hungry Print
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

editor's view by Mary C. UhlerSome people consider the "right to life" as dealing primarily with issues such as abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. However, respect for life from womb to tomb must include caring for the needs of people throughout that spectrum.

Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this wider pro-life view in a message he wrote for World Food Day, observed on October 16 this year. His written message was addressed to Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A Catholic News Service article reporting on the message noted that the current economic crisis has hit agriculture particularly hard. Governments and the world community must "make determined and effective choices" in investing in agriculture in the developing world, Pope Benedict said.

Hunger is on the rise

According to the FAO, more than one billion people are undernourished and one child dies every six seconds because of malnutrition. In my opinion, this situation is simply unacceptable in our day and age. We have the resources and technological expertise to feed the world, yet so many people are starving.

The U.N. agency issued a report on October 14 noting that hunger is on the rise because of soaring food prices, the global economic meltdown, and a decline in aid and investment in agriculture. We seem to be reluctant to put our money where our mouth is -- literally and figuratively!

Fundamental right to food

The pope said combating hunger by guaranteeing that everyone has access to a sufficient and healthy food supply would be "a tangible manifestation of the right to life, which, even though it is solemnly proclaimed, remains too often far from its full realization."

The pope said, "More than a basic need, access to food is a fundamental right of every person and all peoples."

Besides talking about the need for governments and organizations to invest in agriculture while respecting the rights of farm workers, the Holy Father also said fighting world hunger means "changing lifestyle and ways of thinking."

Pope Benedict talked about these changes on a government level. He said that food security can be developed by investing in roads and infrastructure, irrigation systems, transport, the organization of markets, and agricultural technology that takes advantage of local resources and is sustainable in the long term.

How we can help

I think we can all take a look at how we can assume more responsibility for helping feed the hungry and changing systems that perpetuate hunger.

Even though some experts say the recession is over in certain parts of the country (including Madison by some reports), people are still hungry. Ralph Middlecamp, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Madison, told me recently that the society's new Center for Vincentian Charity in Madison is serving about 500 families each week at its food pantry. "There is more demand for our services," Middlecamp said, noting that the society still needs to raise about $400,000 to finish its capital campaign for the new center.

Besides monetary and food donations, the society always welcomes more volunteers. The number of volunteers has increased, but so are the continuing demands for help. For more information, call 608-442-7200 or go to the society's Web site at

The Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison also welcomes donations and volunteers to help with its meal program and food pantry. For more information call 608-661-3512 or go to the Web site at

There are many other food pantries in communities throughout the Diocese of Madison, some operated in cooperation with Catholic Charities. I encourage people to donate money, food, and volunteer help to these efforts.

Assisting farmers

In addition, we can assist our local farmers by purchasing food at farmers' markets and cooperatives. There are also community gardening projects where people can help plant, tend, and harvest food, much of it going to the needy.

On a wider scale, we can monitor what's happening with agriculture policies both in our own country and abroad. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference ( is a great resource for Catholics to find out about what we can do to help feed the hungry -- and expand our thinking about respecting life.