Meeting Basic Human Needs

Sustainable Nutrition and Food Security

Food is not simply a product like any other. Abundant, nutritious foods are essential to human flourishing; agricultural production is therefore yoked to the fundamental demands of what is due in justice to our families and neighbors. The sustainable production of food is therefore a fundamental obligation to which all of us are responsible. The right to nutritious food is intimately linked to the right to human life, which must be respected in its entirety. It is not possible to love one’s neighbor and have no regard for the quality or reliability of their food sources.

A fundamental moral measure of any society, therefore, is to ask how the poor and vulnerable fare. Those who suffer from lack of basic goods and necessities bring before us a profound question about the order of the world, and whether this order is truly right and good. A constant concern for the poor means that we should act – as individuals and as members of community – to overcome the structural injustices of economic orders. This preferential option for the poor is a commitment to transforming society into a place where human rights and the dignity of all are respected.

In solidarity with the poor and overall concern for the common good, agricultural leaders become alert for opportunities to serve those in need while also creating opportunities for more involvement in farming and food production. This takes us beyond the fundamental common good of the provision of vital goods for human sustenance, be it food, clean water, and the air we breathe. The common good is also social, which means that each of us finds comfort and happiness when we belong to a community and are productive in meeting our own basic human needs. The common good is cultural, which gives meaning to our lives by allowing us to act in concert with others and leading each of us to live, work, and believe together. The common good is at once a basic need and an ultimate end, the sharing of life’s necessities and the love of one another and creation which flows from our love of God and God’s love for us. Where the common good is ignored or disdained, then disharmonies in our social, economic, personal and ecological lives will grow like choking weeds around us.

World summits and global declarations on food security regularly commit to the fight against hunger wherever food insecurity persists. Given that it is secure access to food that is the critical problem (as opposed to insufficient production of food), the question is closely tied to market access and poverty. While some argue for the expansion of free and open global markets to reduce food insecurities, others call for the development of local agriculture appropriate to a region or area. Care must be taken, however, not to create a dependency on a single agricultural commodity, especially for export, in the promise that this “economic development” will create local employment and income. For as a region’s “land wealth” is exchanged through its exports, the temporary income this may achieve can leave the community impoverished as more and more imported foods are then needed in order to sustain healthy local communities. A fair and balanced commodity of goods for the market and local food production is a prudent course.

The virtue of solidarity propels individuals and communities to go beyond their narrow selfishness or enclave mentality, and to care for their neighbors, their regions, even the world. Solidarity moves us beyond blind self-interest and private advantage; solidarity reminds us that we are social beings. In solidarity, we are joined in a greater body of being and the fruitful sharing of common desires. For rural life, the principle of solidarity motivates us to care for the earth and the greater bio-community in which we ourselves are just a part. Solidarity in this sense means a stewardship of the land as we recognize that creation is a web of life in which we all cling together.


[Continue to next section: Respecting the Dignity of Farmers and Farmworkers]