Hungry for a Moral Budget

April 25, 2011

On the 25th day of his hunger fast, Tony Hall, former congressman and U.S. ambassador to the UN, visits GW to advocate for the vulnerable.

By Anna Miller

Tony Hall, executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger, maintained a strong, composed and professional presence when addressing a crowd on April 21 at the George Washington University's Marvin Center.

But Mr. Hall, who is a former U.S. ambassador to the UN Food & Agricultural Organization, a former U.S. congressman from Ohio and a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was on the 25th day of a hunger fast launched to protect the hungry and impoverished from congressional budget cuts.

Mr. Hall's misleading appearance was all a part of the point: 50 million Americans are hungry, most of them "invisible," he said at the event, which was sponsored by the GW Center for Global Health and the Global Health Network, a student group from the Department of Global Health in the GW School of Public Health and Health Services.

"With the recession the past couple of years, a lot of people have been pushed not only into unemployment, they have been pushed into poverty," said Mr. Hall. "These are senior citizens, these are mothers, these are people who are running out of money at the end of every month because they can't stretch their paycheck."

"Hungry" and "hunger" are terms that are important to distinguish, pointed out Charles Teller, a professor in the global health department, who also spoke at the event.

"Hungry is an individual status, and we measure it quite differently from hunger," he said. "Hunger is a system; it's a system that produces hungry people. So when we try to address hunger, we are talking about politics, economics and geopolitics. We are also talking about inequalities."

Robert Zachritz, director of advocacy and government relations for World Vision, also gave a brief presentation outlining how the proposed congressional budget cuts will
eliminate food aid to 18 million people overseas and drastically cut successful development programs abroad. The cuts, too, he said, target the United States' Women, Infant and Children and Head Start programs.

"As a Christian organization, we do believe that global hunger and global poverty are moral issues, and we recognize that the U.S. budget deficit is a moral issue as well," said Mr. Zachritz. "So realize that, but enter into the conversation and dialogue. These programs work. They make a difference, and they represent the best values of who you are as a people."

Mr. Hall's dedication to fighting domestic and global hunger began when he traveled to Ethiopia in 1984, a time when the country was suffering from a famine that killed 1 million people.

"I'll never get over that experience," he said. "I came back thinking, 'this is what I am going to do. This is where I am going to concentrate: on domestic and international hunger.'"

During his presentation, Mr. Hall stressed the spiritual significance of fasting, calling fasting and prayer "two of the strongest disciplines you can possibly do."

"These kind of issues dealing with the poor and the sick, orphans and widows are of great concern to God, but they don't get a lot of attention on Capitol Hill because they don't have lobbyists," said Hall, who pointed out that members of Congress are confronted with approximately 20,000 issues each year.

"So how do you compete?" he asked. "One of the ways you compete is you call God into the situation. It's a very powerful way to do it."

When he launched the fast on March 28, Mr. Hall was supported by 38 organizations and 4,000 individuals who signed the Call for Action. Since then, he has been joined by 28 members of Congress and over 36,000 other Americans who are committed to "fasting, prayer and other forms of personal sacrifice," he reported.

"Whenever you have this many varied backgrounds doing something together especially under God, it creates a powerful force both spiritually and politically that cannot be ignored," said Mr. Hall. "Some effects are visible, some are deeper and invisible. It changes hearts and minds."

The fast ended on Easter Sunday, but the fight for the cause continues.

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