Understanding the Hunger Space

Making Sense of the Alphabet Soup of The Hunger Space


Understanding the Hunger Space: Part 5
By Rick McNary

When I first began researching the issue of hunger, I spent a lot of time in Washington, DC. I felt like I did a half gainer off the Acapulco cliffs into a bowl of Alphabet Soup. I was drowning in acronyms, acrostics, and abbreviations to the point of incoherence. USAID, WIC, WFP, FAO, CARE, CRS, USDA, SNAP, FRAC, and a zillion others tumbled out of people’s mouths like rice thrown on newlyweds. It seemed like gibberish that made sense only to the chosen few who spoke the same language.

They are so accustomed to this type of code speak that they even refer their city in this way: DC. Do you use the abbreviated letters of your state talking to people? “Yeah, I’m from KS.” Or, “Really, I’m from AL, but I lived in MO for two years before I went to NV.”   I know DC is not a state, but you get my drift.

There are so many acronyms I think they need to add one more to the government agencies in DC. The new agency should be called BAAA, like a wounded sheep bleating. It would stand for: Bureau of Acronyms, Acrostics, and Abbreviations. Seriously, you need a glossary to understand the lingo of the hunger space.

Therefore, I’m going to break these down to bite size pieces to give you a basic understanding of the major players in the hunger space. We’ll start with the 30,000 foot worldview first: The United Nations.

The United Nations began at the end of World War II in 1945 with 51 voluntary countries- called member states- signing a pact. Now, the number of member states is 193. Their headquarters is in New York City.

The Four Main Purposes of the UN

  • To keep peace throughout the world;
  • To develop friendly relations among nations;
  • To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms;
  • To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.

Remember earlier that I mentioned the two main concepts in the hunger space are relief and development? So if you take a look at the UN’s activities around food security, their relief component is called the World Food Programme (WFP) and their development component is called Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Although they are agencies of the UN, their headquarters are in Rome instead of NY. They have offices in the U.S., but their main office is in Italy.

World Food Programme

WFP is the largest food-aid relief organization in the world. The great champion of Hunger, Sen. George McGovern, started it in 1961 after an FAO conference. It was formalized in 1963 and currently provides food aid to over 90 million people a year.

WFP’s Mission:

WFP is the food aid arm of the United Nations system. Food aid is one of the many instruments that can help to promote food security, which is defined as access of all people at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life.  The policies governing the use of World Food Programme food aid must be oriented towards the objective of eradicating hunger and poverty. The ultimate objective of food aid should be the elimination of the need for food aid.

Targeted interventions are needed to help to improve the lives of the poorest people – people who, either permanently or during crisis periods, are unable to produce enough food or do not have the resources to otherwise obtain the food that they and their households require for active and healthy lives.

Consistent with its mandate, which also reflects the principle of universality, WFP will continue to:

  • use food aid to support economic and social development;
  • meet refugee and other emergency food needs, and the associated logistics support; and
  • promote world food security in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations and FAO.

The core policies and strategies that govern WFP activities are to provide food aid:

  • to save lives in refugee and other emergency situation
  • to improve the nutrition and quality of life of the most vulnerable people at critical times in their lives; and
  • to help build assets and promote the self-reliance of poor people and communities, particularly through labour-intensive works programmes.[i]


WFP has a particular USA branch with some really terrific people. One of their most popular ideas is the Red Plastic Cup, which you can fill for .25 cents.

Food and Agriculture Organization

The FAO was started in 1943 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited international leaders to join him in the pool at Hot Springs, VA, which is a marvelous place to get people to agree on just about anything. After a day of soaking in the hot springs, people mellow out and sign about anything you put in front of them. Originally, 44 countries united to form a permanent Food and Agricultural Organization. Now, there are 194 countries in FAO.

FAO’s Mission:

Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO’s efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. 

Our three main goals are:

  • the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition
  • the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all
  • the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.[ii]

Each year, FAO has a theme:

One of the most popular functions of FAO is World Food Day, which is always Oct. 16 of each year. There are a lot of activities surrounding that day.


U.N. Millennium Development Goals

These are frequently referred to as the MDGs.

At the Millennium Summit in September 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015, that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.

 Goal1 Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
 Goal2 Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
 Goal3 Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
 Goal4 Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
 Goal5 Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
 Goal6 Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
 Goal7 Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
 Goal8 Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development



I’ve learned to not only stay afloat, but also to enjoy swimming in the Alphabet Soup of the Hunger Space. While it seems like you’re drowning at first, once you understand the major players it all starts making sense. There’s a big pool full of people doing some marvelous things to eliminate hunger. It’s a good place to swim.


Rick McNary is the Author of Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration & vice president of public and private partnerships for Outreach, Inc. He also serves on the Executive Board for the Alliance to End Hunger in Washington, D.C., and is a long-time friend of Universities Fighting World Hunger. Follow him at http://www.rickmcnary.me or connect via email at rick.mcnary@gmail.com.




[i] WFP Mission Statement, WFP, Web. 11 Feb. 2015, https://www.wfp.org/about/mission-statement

[ii] About FAO: What We Do, FAO, Web. 11 Feb. 2015, http://www.fao.org/about/what-we-do/en/

[iii] Millennium Project, UN, Web. 11 Feb. 2015, http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/goals/