Daniela Ueda Martins, FLF Student.
This entry is the second of a series of posts reflecting on the political role of food in the fictional book series Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. The discussion is an idea of Dr Jose Luis Vivero Pol.
Hunger as a means of controlling people is the strongest message on the book “Hunger Games”. In the Capitol, food is plentiful, and food waste is far from being an issue. On the contrary, it is a sign of status.
Panem doesn’t work for the welfare of its people, but to enforce the social hierarchy strengthened after the uprisings caused by hunger. Power abuse is exercised with no limits because the rulers are comfortable that the current structure is not going to be changed. That is because the problem, say Katniss and Rue, is that they’re not hungry (page 205, last part of the dialogue between them).
Poverty is depicted as the face of hunger throughout the movie. Although both concepts intertwine, poverty is relative. But hunger is absolute.
The Capitol knows that its people are starving and desperate. But in the movie, as well as in reality, hunger is not a result of lack of food, but of access. It is a political problem.
The Capitol does not provide food for its citizens. People do not own land and are deprived of any means of food production. They are not even allowed to hunt. Katniss and Gale do that illegally. If they are caught, they can be punished by death (page 17, last paragraph). Not even the citizens of the agriculture district, district 11, are allowed to eat what they grow. Rue, who is from the agriculture district, explained to Katniss (page 201, last part of the dialogue) that they are not allowed to eat their own crops. The sanction for not complying with this rule is public whipping. In Hunger Games, land is treated like in the dominant industrial system: the crops that are planted are decided by a more powerful stakeholder (big corporations) and will be shipped to be used elsewhere. The corporative food system relies on global food trade, and food crossing borders account for 23% of the total today, an increase from 15% 20 years ago.
Not being able to eat the food that you grow is another disadvantage of the neoliberal food system for many farmers. Today, 70% of food producers are hungry, as most of them produce cash-crops. Thirteen percent of food products account for 80% of total trade, and big corporations control 80% of food exports and have more and more interest in being part of government decisions.
The dominant narrative that trade will be essential to feed the world and the focus on high-input, export-led agriculture has led to rural poverty and caused some African countries to become net importers of food. Many poor people living in rural areas have to lend workforce. They buy the food that they produce because they don’t produce enough for themselves.
In Panem, food is punishment in its scarcity and is given as a reward: the Hunger Games winner “receives a life of ease back home” (page 19, last paragraph), and the winner’s district is “showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar”. Grain and oil are the foods given through the tesserae in exchange for adding more times their names in the reaping.
But before being released to fight for their lives and against each other, the tributes are offered fattening foods and also fruit, many of which they had never tasted before because they are rare and costly in the districts. Katniss says that she has had an orange just once, at New Year’s, when her father bought it as a special treat (page 55, third paragraph).
The recommendation for consumption of five portions of fruits and vegetables would cost low-income households in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe 52% of their household income, making the recommendation impossible to be met. Between 1990 and 2012, fruits and vegetables prices rose from 55% to 90%, while prices of ultra-processed foods dropped, as they are subsidized. A policy that could be implemented is over-tax ultra-processed foods in the same way that sugar-sweetened beverages were subject of a tax policy in Mexico. The government there instituted a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks aiming at curbing its consumption and addressing the diabetes rates in that country, one of the highest worldwide.
The movie also dwells upon genetic engineered species when it presents tracker jackers. The wasps have a potent venom can be lethal and cause hallucinations. That reflects concerns about genetically modified foods and their impact on health and the environment.
Food is not considered a human right in Hunger Games, nor in many countries in the real world. Food must not be seen as an act of charity or reward, as in the movie, because it is a basic human need.
Stein, H., World Bank agricultural policies, poverty and income inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa,
McKeon, N., Food Security Governance: empowering communities, regulating corporations
Sánchez-Romero LM, Penko J, Coxson PG, Fernández A, Mason A, Moran AE, et al. Projected Impact of Mexico’s Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Policy on Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease: A Modeling Study
Vivero-Pol JL, Why Isn’t Food a Public Good?
McKeon, N., The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition
Wise, T. and Capaldo, J., Will the WTO fast-track trade at the expense of food security?