Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hunger Games

I sat down at breakfast this morning to brainstorm ideas for today's blog post, fully intending to write up something more on the fangirly side of things. That didn't happen. My father got out the can of whipped cream to put on his pancakes and left it on the kitchen counter in front of me. Curious about a promotion I saw on the side about ConAgra donating meals to Feeding America, I began reading the can and found this:

I'll type this up as I imagine it's relatively unreadable in the picture. It says:
Help us donate one meal to Feeding America. Go to and enter this 8 digit code. [code given] For every code entered, by 8/31/13, ConaAgra Foods will donate 12.5¢, the cost for Feeding America to provide on meal through its network of local food banks. Maximum: 3 million meals. Guaranteed minimum donation: 1 million meals ($125,000). Limit 5 code entries per person/computer each day. Valid in U.S. only.
This program was created out of good intentions, I'm sure. But when I read this, my first reaction was unbridled fury. Why do I have to enter a code to get ConAgra to donate money? Why can't they just do it when I purchase one of their products? Why do they have a maximum donation cap? Why is there some goofy limit to how many codes you can enter per day? WHY DOES HELPING PEOPLE HAVE TO BE SO COMPLICATED?

Despite this all, I entered the code and was happy to see this graphic, assuring me that people were actually motivated to go to the website and enter their codes:

Over 2 million meals - that's great. They've almost met their "goal" (which is described as a maximum on the can, but a goal here). But ConAgra is a huge corporation and I can't help but think, "Dammit, this could be so much more efficiently done." Wouldn't it be easier for everyone to automatically donate when their items are purchased? They don't have to maintain the website (at least not in the same way), they don't have to count on customers to read their product labels entirely (how many people really do this, I wonder? I read food labels all the time, but I'll essentially read anything that's put in front of me), they could easily achieve their goal in a few weeks. Why the complicated hoops to jump through in order to help others?

As my father hypothesized, there's probably some sort of legal reason for all of this, or it was a sincere effort suggested by someone in ConAgra's marketing team that got rather distracted from its root cause. It doesn't make me any less frustrated. Maybe I'm asking too much - obviously this is doing some good and is far better than nothing. But I can't help but think about how much better it could be, how much more efficient it could be. I suppose that by going to this website, you find out more about the Feeding America campaign and get facts like the one shown above that 212,050 children face hunger in Minnesota. But at the same time I can't help but worry about the "slacktivism" idea with social media providing new opportunities. This message popped up after I'd entered the code:

"Tell your friends how easy it is to help end child hunger." Now I feel like a slacktivist for entering the code (and complaining about having to enter the code at all) instead of going out and working at a food shelf or volunteering for a community organization. But at the same time, it feels a bit like ConAgra is working in the same way by deferring the effort of action onto its customers instead of just doing it themselves. It's not that I don't want to actively help end hunger - I do. It's that ConAgra has a lot more money than I do and it seems like they should be able to donate because they want to, not because I'm buying their products or wanting to see that their customers actually care about this sort of thing (generally you shouldn't make assumptions about your customers, but this is one assumption I think you should make). Instead, they give me this interface that keeps reminding me of the Coca-Cola reward codes that you can enter to win stuff. It feels too much like a game of entering numbers to reap rewards and it gives me an uncomfortable feeling. What's more, I don't know enough about what kind of meals Feeding America provides to know if I've really done any good. Again, it's better than nothing... but what exactly does entering a code do? Is this really a good way of trying to achieve change? But what other options do we have if we don't have the time or abilities to do something more with our time? And why of all places did I see this add on a can of whipped cream, perhaps one of the most unnecessary food items in our refrigerator?

*sigh*... And the plight of the skeptical altruist continues.

I would say no more posts on food and hunger, but... we all know how that's going to turn out:
However, I promise - I PROMISE - my next post will be about gifs. I've only been meaning to finish that post for the last... oh, five months, and I absolutely, positively will be publishing it on Wednesday.

The real question is, if everything I've assured you of on posting is a pack of lies, can you trust me to actually post on gifs on Wednesday? Good question - we shall see, won't we? :)


  1. And, by "ending world hunger" online, people get to feel like they're helping without actually meeting any of the *people* they are supposedly helping. What do these hungry children look like? What do their parents look like, talk like? In what neighborhood do they live? What are their stories? By avoiding meeting the "people in need," the "helpers" also get to avoid the knowledge that hunger is a political problem, with social causes (and radical political solutions!). If you're up for some summer reading :D, I suggest Sam Marullo and Bob Edwards' "From Charity to Justice," and also Keith Morton, "The Irony of Service," both of which discuss the difference between charity (which fixes what are perceived as moral problems) and social justice (which focuses on political problems, in other words, not temporarily helping by buying meals, or fixing wayward people, but addressing structural injustices).
    P.S. Congrats on being a college graduate!!! :)

    1. I couldn't agree more. Thank you for the summer reading recommendations. I'll certainly have to check them out! And thank you - being a grad feels wonderful!