Kent, George. FREEDOM FROM WANT: the human right to adequate food. 2005. Georgetown University Press, USA.

Freedom from want; the right to adequate food is included in many international agreements, most notable, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is enough food for all on earth, even as our population increases. But many people are hungry; food security may be the major issue of our time. Some of us enjoy the over-abundant food availability of the minority world; but we may soon face food insecurity as the petroleum basis of our industrial agriculture dries up. Then the human right to adequate food may not be ’out there’, but ’right here’. We definitely need to heed now what Kent has to say in Freedom from Want.

Society needs to take this human right seriously and see how we can establish it as a universal right – only universality will guarantee any human right. Kent warns that, ‘we do not solve the problem by feeding people- that only perpetuates it. The problems of hunger and malnutrition can be solved only by ensuring that people can live in dignity by having decent opportunities to provide for themselves.’ The author sees these problems as moral, political and structural and we have to navigate through the complex labyrinth of national and international controls to understand and react to how the world’s food is threatened.

Kent makes a carefully documented case for how governments, international institutions and societies are failing to ensure food security for all. It appears to be a serious lack of political will. We are still dominated by the ideology of power – it is the powerful that dominate food production and trade. Corporations have become more powerful than many nations, but that in itself is the responsibility of complicit governments – including Canada’s, one of the worst offenders. It is governments that provide the structures that allow corporations to control our agriculture.

‘The world as a whole has the capacity to sharply reduce global hunger and malnutrition. It is obligated to do that.’ The failure to accept that obligation is a failure of personal and political will. Kent presents this failure as part of a larger concern for human rights and social justice that we must all recognize and accept.

Kent devotes special attention to how freedom from want relates to water, children’s rights, the rights of mothers to breastfeed and the growing number of global refugees. It is good governance that he sees as the appropriate response to this vast area of concern.

He says that, ‘…both within nations and globally, a well-developed human rights system is not an add-on luxury; it is an integral part of any social system that aspires to be egalitarian.’

The commonness of food banks and soup kitchens in the richest countries of the world will not solve local problems and food aid, a form of dumping and often coercive foreign policy, will not solve food shortage globally. Kent emphasizes, ‘…the issue is not access to food as such; it is also about the access to food production and to decent opportunities for doing productive work.’

Those who are active in social movements and non-government organizations as well as academics and students will find this volume a reliable and informative basis for further work. Kent provides a good overview, a detailed analysis and an excellent reference text with many sources for more information and opportunity for citizen involvement in an issue, literally, of life and death.

Filed under Book Reviews, George Kent