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One Quarter of Americans Still Don’t Believe It — What About You?

In Paris, sixty years ago today, the U.N. General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Access to food is the right of “everyone,” says its Article 25. Yet, a new World Public Opinion poll reports that one in four Americans still rejects its premise — that it is government’s responsibility to protect citizens’ right to eat.

The extent of America’s depend-on-yourself-or-die stance may be unique: In eighteen of the twenty-one nations surveyed, at most one in ten respondents shares this view.

Cliches abound as to why the U.S. stands alone. The positive spin chalks it up to the “rugged individualism” of our “frontier spirit.” I’m not so sure. Consider the less romantic, more recent power of the steady drip, drip, drip of market ideology from the Reagan era onward, telling us to shrink government’s responsibilities.

But then, in 2008, the drip suddenly stopped and that ideology seemed to be spiraling down the drain. When the depth of our financial crisis began sinking in, even a dazed Alan Greenspan acknowledged that his self-regulating market may require public action. As the crisis spreads hunger at unprecedented speed, an estimated one in ten Americans now depends on food stamps, and the number of hungry people world wide jumped by 40 million just this year, the U.N. said this week. So nearly a billion people face hunger today — roughly twice as many as the early 70s when hunger first hit the international marquee. And in a time when there is no shortage of food, period.

If citizens’ having real choice is the heart of democracy — and no human being chooses to go hungry — we might ponder: Isn’t hunger’s very existence proof of a deficit of democracy? If so, this anniversary day might be a perfect moment to rethink what it could mean to shift the frame to food as a human right.

Consider what difference it made in Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, when a new administration was elected there in 1993 on a food-as-a-right platform.