Real hunger people don’t talk.

Last week, I asked the question—which I’ve been asking for years—“Where’s the online discussion of hunger?”   Crickets.

Dang folks.  These online channels—blogs, social media, forums, etc.—offer enormous potential for exciting and diverse discourse.  The hunger community is a passionate and opinionated bunch.  There’s enough diversity of thought among those who care about feeding people to have some really interesting discussion going on?  So why don’t we?

When I asked the question last week, social-media-for-social good expert Beth Kanter suggested on twitter that perhaps hunger fighters were too focused on making change offline to be spending energy in online discussion.  I think she’s correct.  To a certain degree.

Here’s my thinking right now (note: There’s a bit of devil’s advocacy here, and the view does not necessarily reflect those of my employer or fellow team members. And it is a generalization, for which there are notable exceptions.  Apologies to those folks, and you know who you are—you’ll likely be the ones who comment here):

Many of the people who are on the front lines, who are the best informed and have the strongest views on the issue of hunger, are not participating online. They’re digital immigrants, if they use technology at all.   They are indeed busy offline.    They have, instead delegated the responsibility of online participation to marketing people.

Many of the marketing people in hunger relief (some working for the largest organizations)  just haven’t yet embraced the concept of online conversations and community building.  Hunger is not their thing. Marketing is. They’re intensely focused on their own organizational objectives and metrics, many of which ultimately direct to fundraising.  That’s how they’re wired.  Consequently, there’s little conversation.  Little sharing of meaningful content.  No engaging with those who aren’t direct stakeholders, especially those who might have a different point of view (or aren’t funders).

Okay.  I’ve poked a hornet’s nest.  Prove me wrong.  Discuss.

Photo by al3xadk1n5 Flickr Creative Commons

6 Replies to “Real hunger people don’t talk.”

  1. Beth Kanter

    I think it is less common that you get someone who has social media comfort AND is so passionate about their cause they can’t help themselves to talk about it through every channel available. I’m thinking of Mark Horvath – Hardly Normal and Shawn Ahmed – Uncultured.

    So, the combination of:

    * Too busy offline making change
    * Comfort with social
    * Those who are the faces online are not necessarily the passionate advocates (with huge exceptions)
    * Political divide

    Okay, it strikes me that hunger is not the only social change issue that is facing these problems.

    Where is the online gathering place for hunger – that is not one organization’s space but a collaborative approach? Is there something similar to ?

    • Ed Nicholson Post author


      I’m really, really sorry that your very good comment to this post somehow got diverted into the WordPress admin SPAM comments folder (this particular post generated more than its share of real spam comments for some reason). YOU of all people! 🙁 Glad I caught it before I bulk deleted.

      You make some excellent points, all spot-on. It seems to me that those who began using social networks more recently are less comfortable making comments than are those of us came to the game in the age when online forums and blogs ruled the bandwidth.

      And I totally agree that those who are online are not necessarily those most passionate (with exceptions like Billy Shore, Joel Berg, David Davenport, and Robert Eggers–and I daresay even some of them allow their own organizations’ social channels to be managed by marketers).

      I’m guessing hunger is absolutely NOT the only social change issue facing these challenges.

      I’ve been trying to find that space similar to the agchat space for four years. As far as I know, it’s just not there. My original thought when we put this site up in 2007 was that it would be a “room” in which people could gather and discuss the issue. In hindsight, I think many advocates might have been uncomfortable with that occuring on a site owned by a corporate entity–that’s a valid concern; I understand it completely. But it _would_ be great if this very passionate community (in which there’s a great diversity of opinions and ideas) could find a place for respectful, spiritied discussion.

  2. Sue Kerr

    Too busy is right – I’ve been trying to get 5 people together to talk social media and hunger for over 4 months and we can’t find a single day more than 3 of us are available.

    IMO, the online discussion about hunger tends to be a one-sided response to any story about SNAP or other poverty programs — people jump into comments with all sorts of ignorant hate and there is little refutation which only keeps the ignorance fueled. It is a powerful and pervasive meme.

    Perhaps the best approach is not to get the front line experts engaged on social media, but people experiencing hunger themselves. And not just brief interviews and snippets for annual reports. Real empowerment much as is being done in the homeless community through Hunger doesn’t have a strong presence on HuffPo — meanwhile Mark and Carey Fuller and others do present their unique points of view on a semi-regular basis.

    Perhaps one problem is those of us who aren’t experiencing hunger are trying to tell someone else’s story.

    On a related note, one thing that is often missed is that the NPO’s fighting hunger are often on the edge budget wise. Pennsylvania just cut funding by 10% and kicked 70,000 people off General Assistance and … so its not just that the importance of social media isn’t prioritized, its also not fundable.

    I have some great social media ideas for the Tote Bag Project to explore the intersection of hunger and environmental issues, but we can’t find a single funder who might be interested given the state of human services.

    But it is a conversation worth having.

    • Ed Nicholson Post author

      You make some really good points, Sue.
      First off, IMHO, the state of discourse in this country has reached a new low. There’s no shortage of those you describe who want to rant senselessly against anti-hunger programs. There are conservative people of good conscience, who believe systems can be changed and improved. We have to figure out a way to marginalize the former and engage the latter in productive dialog. Too many of us in this country are talking respectfully only to the people who are like-minded. It’s my belief that we’re not going to make great headway toward solutions until we can have productive dialog among those who disagree. We might start in our own community, because, as I said, there’s plenty of diversity of thought among those who all agree that something should be done about hunger.

      Part of the challenge with getting those directly affected by hunger involved is that there is indeed still a great deal of stigma attached to food insecurity. Many, many of those affected are working hard to create the impression among their friends, families and neighbors that they are not affected. Agencies serving those in need are working hard to protect the dignity and privacy of their clients (as they should). One of the things we’ve done at Tyson is try to find people who are now successful, but at one point in their lives might have faced food insecurity: See

  3. Jordan Vernoy

    Here at the Iowa Food Bank Association, we are trying to engage people in a discussion about the real face of hunger. You can check out our blog at However, we do not get a whole lot of discussion.

    I think people on both sides of the aisle can’t quite figure out how to address hunger. Those on the left are ready to spend to support the programs, and look passed some of the possible misuses of the programs. However, they get hammered for being reckless spender and creating a welfare state. Those on the right are focused on getting our fiscal house in order and over exaggerate fraud and abuse in safety net programs. However, they don’t want to sound evil by saying that they want to cut sources of food to those who are really fighting to put food on the table.

    The result: Hunger remains silent.

    We hope that through our work we can give a voice to the hungry, and educate people enough that they decide they can’t stand by while citizens of the best country in the world go hungry! We hope the people will stand up for what is right and ignore what those who are out to ridicule any action have to say.

    • Ed Nicholson Post author

      Really good points, Jordan. I think those of us who advocate for government programs are going to have to be willing to sit down at the table with those who advocate for fiscal austerity and admit that resources are limited, so let’s figure out how to make the programs more efficient and effective. At the same time, we need to help those for whom budgets are a priority understand that “penny wise and pound foolish” is not the way to go: Allowing people (especially kids) to go hungry is a _bad_ investment in our future.

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