Food is not a human right.
Posted by Lissa on September 1, 2010
That’s right, I said it. I’ve gone halfway before – remember this post? – but I’m feeling wild-and-crazy today. Full damnation, full speed ahead!
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Joe goes on to discuss Communism and redistribution, but my reaction is far simpler (of course):
No. No no no. Food is not a human right.
After long (muddled? unfruitful?) rumination, I’ve decided to differentiate between human rights and moral imperatives. (Other folks will describe them as “freedom to” and “freedom from.”)
The right to defend yourself, the right to speak your mind, the right to worship any god you damn well please – I consider these human rights. You can do these while sitting alone in the woods — all it requires is that the government leave you in peace.
The obligation to feed the hungry, to support the poor, elderly and infirm – I consider these moral imperatives. You can call them the duties of citizenship or the social contract, if you like. They are covenenats imposed on us, by us, a decent people, and are integral to being a decent society.
That obligation on the provider does not translate equally to rights for the recipient.
I think it is morally and ethically desirable to help alleviate hunger. As I posted a while back:
As you can probably tell, I am still susceptible to accusations of heartlessness and feelings of guilt. There’s a panhandler outside of South Station who holds out his Dunkin Donuts cup every day. I felt less guilty about never giving him money once I discovered that he’s been doing that for at least SEVEN YEARS. He has no physical deformity and he wears warm and sturdy clothing. Intellectually, I know there is no reason for me to feel guilt or shame for refusing him charity.But emotionally, I still found it difficult. I studiously avoided his eyes every time I walked past.
The solution? I’m now donating every month to the Boston Food Bank. At a rough glance, they seem to have an acceptable level of efficiency — my crude calculations guestimated about 87% of their budget went to food distribution/storage — and it’s a worthy cause. I don’t want people to go hungry, so I chose to help feed them. (CHOSE. Choice. It’s a good thing.) If the guy at South Station is hungry, he can go over and get something to eat. I walk by him now and my conscience makes nary a peep.
But a societal obligation on my part (“We should provide food for hungry people”) does not translate into a right for the South Station guy.
If food were a human right, then the panhandler could sit on his butt outside South Station and demand not only that I provide him bread, but that I walk over and place it gently in his mouth, physically move his jaw up and down and then rub his throat to make him swallow.
If he has a right to it, then why should he have to do such onerous work as standing all day while cadging handouts? Why should he have to walk to the Food Bank?
If he has a right to it, then the makers of that bread (including the truck that delivered the bread to Boston, the company that manufactured the plastic wrap, Wonder Bread Inc., the manufacturers of kneading machines, the inventor of the kneading machine and the slicing machine and the conveyor belt, the growers of wheat and sugar and yeast, the chemists who perfected preservatives; hell, the inventor of the internal combustion engine and the workers at the petroleum refinery) then they must do their jobs no matter their preference or wish for compensation. Because he has a right to it.
I say no.