We must all work to insure that inequality does not force out the vibrant diversity that makes Seattle so worthy a place to call home.
After more than a decade of living and working in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, I have returned to Seattle to run Northwest Harvest, Washington’s statewide hunger relief agency. I’ve come back to find so much economic growth. More jobs, more buildings, more people — and far more inequality compared to when I last called the Pacific Northwest home.
Unfortunately, far too many of our neighbors are being left out of this prosperity. One in eight Washingtonians experience food insecurity. One in five children currently lives in a home that is food insecure. Those experiencing deep poverty (below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, which is less than $10,080 a year for a family of three) has grown by 17 percent in just the last decade, according to the Washington State Budget and Policy Center. And, although hunger persists at significantly higher rates in rural communities as well as in communities of color, no one group is fully immune from the structural injustices that lead to poverty and hunger.
As we recognize World Food DayMonday, it’s important to stress that hunger does not manifest itself due to an equation of too many people and not enough food. The fact is, there is plenty of food to feed us all. The primary reason hunger exists here at home is because we have structures that are failing us. We are failing in our ability to get nutritious food to the communities that are most in need. We are failing at supporting common-sense policy and legislation that protect our most vulnerable. And we are failing to effectively break down social barriers and discriminatory practices that perpetuate generations of lost opportunities for education, employment, health care and housing.
If we ever wish to collectively end hunger, we must seriously look at ending each practice that widens opportunity gaps while building and reinforcing those that create broad opportunities that lead us to a more equitable society.
Advocacy on behalf of marginalized people is nothing new to Northwest Harvest. For 50 years, we’ve been building coalitions and partnerships to help those in need and advance food justice. Going forward, we will step forward to stand with communities that experience discrimination and inequality. As a hunger-relief agency that serves our state, we have never existed to fulfill the objectives of political parties or of powerholders. Northwest Harvest was uniquely created to be a safe harbor — a welcome place for those who struggle in society. We will continue to be a beacon of hope and tolerance and a place where food and nutrition is accompanied by appreciation, respect and a warmth for humanity in all its forms.
I am glad to once again call Seattle home. I know that if there is any city in this country that can succeed in moving forward on issues stemming from inequity, it’s this one. We have the resources. We have the talent. But we still need to find the will and courage to fight for and build an enduring vision that our community will not tolerate or perpetuate practices that widen opportunity gaps. As Seattle rises, and the influx of new professionals continues to drive economic prosperity, it will take all facets of society to build that inclusive vision and ensure that inequality does not force out the vibrant diversity that makes this area so worthy to call home.