In a global survey released last year, more people said they struggled to afford food in American than in China. That fact was one of the inspirations behind a new ad campaign that flips the usual appeal for donations around: Thirty years ago, nonprofits might have asked American consumers to help solve Chinese hunger. These ads ask how China (and Slovenia, and Germany) can help the U.S.
“This was really to try to think a little more disruptively to get people’s attention, to go right to the heart of the issue that people are not aware hunger is a problem in the United States,” says Billy Shore, CEO and founder of Share Our Strength, the nonprofit that led a team of partners to produce the campaign.
“I’d say that historically there’s been a genre of media around hunger that looks kind of alike–stories of kids in rural areas like Appalachia or Alabama,” he says. “Those stories are important and compelling, but they all have the same kind of message. The idea was to do something different, and point out that America can’t be great on an empty stomach–really tap into this notion that it has to do with our strength as a nation, as a people, as a society. It’s not just about these children–as important as that is–but it really impacts all of us.”
Around 47 million Americans living below the poverty line rely federal food stamps, about 20 million more than in 2006. By contrast, China, once the biggest recipient of aid from the World Food Programme, managed to cut the number of its hungry citizens in half over the last two decades. (They do still have a long way to go, with 133 million hungry people).
In the U.S., the problem is partly political. “There are a set of issues around hunger, particularly child hunger in the United States, that are very solvable,” says Shore. “The food exists, the programs are in place, they’re funded, but not enough kids are accessing them. So relative to other things, it’s a very solvable problem. But it takes political will.”
The key, he says, is for more Americans to become aware of that hunger is a problem and speak up about it. “I think some of this is the paradox of being one of the wealthiest nations in the world–it being hard to believe that hunger exists at the level it does. And part of it is the fact of how polarized our politics have become over the last 5 to 10 years. But there has been a lot of support for anti-hunger campaigns historically. We think there’s an opportunity to break out of the impasse on this particular issue.”