Ending Food Insecurity Is Justice, Not Charity

In a recent report, CNA Insider tackled the issue of food insecurity in Singapore, putting the spotlight on Singaporeans who do not know when their next meal would be, or lack access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. What immediately struck me was not just concern, but the fact that these Singaporeans have been stripped of the dignity to make choices, particularly the freedom to “make the healthier choice”.

The article laid out several hard facts: 4.1% of Singaporeans faced moderate to severe food insecurity between 2016 and 2018; they are a diverse group that cannot be defined by housing type, family size, age or income group alone; and families who work hard nonetheless can struggle to put food on the table.

As I ruminated on my own responses, I was further struck by my own complete inability to truly empathise. As one who has always lived with food security, I cannot conceive of a daily existence where I am constantly hungry and cannot imagine the sheer anxiety of not knowing where my next meal is coming from. The division between the haves and have-nots is so impenetrable that as much as the article tries to bring the two realities closer to each other, the gulf between them could not be starker.

In such a world, there is an ever greater need for solidarity. Solidarity, one of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, reminds us that every human person is connected to every other one. It assures us that while we may not be able to even begin understanding our brothers’ and sisters’ struggle with food insecurity, we can stand together with them.

Not only must we show solidarity, we need to recognise that taking action is not an act of charity on our part, but a repayment of a debt we owe to them. The church informs us through the principle of the Universal Destination of Goods that God created the world and all its resources for the benefit and flourishing of all people. It is injustice, therefore, when a fellow human being suffers from the lack of nutritious food when we feast to the point of wastage.

As a young adult, I hear keenly the call to take action. There are various avenues through which we can contribute: volunteering with food support organisations, giving alms to support the work they do, and advocating for the cause. In this particularly challenging time when COVID-19 fears abound, our response, even two pennies’ worth, will make a difference.

Prayer for Justice (author unknown):
God, you have given all peoples on common origin.
It is your will that they be gathered together
as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of humankind with the fire of your love
and with the desire to ensure justice for all.
By sharing the good things you give us,
may we secure an equality for all
our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
May there be an end to division, strife, and war.
May there be a dawning of a truly human society
built on love and peace.
We ask this in your name. Amen.

Marissa Yee is a member of the Caritas Singapore Young Adults Committee. She is an active member of the Church of St. Ignatius’ Family Choir and Salve Regina Orchestra.