While the world's major powers have developed the ability to deliver megatons of nuclear destructive power to any spot on earth within minutes, they have proved remarkably ineffective in delivering tons of life-saving grain to millions of people on the verge of starvation in Ethiopia and other drought-stricken regions of Africa.
Ethiopia's chief ally, the Soviet Union, has apparently been of little help in the present crisis. Most of the food aid arriving in the country is coming from Europe and America.
But in the eyes of many of the relief workers who have been pleading for assistance for over a year, the Western response, although welcome, is too little and too late. And they fear that the required sense of urgency will not be sustained when (as always seems to happen) the public tires of the images of pain and suffering and media coverage about the famine dwindles.
Even the Ethiopian government is not without blame in the current crisis. According to reports in Newsweek, the military government ignored early warnings of the impending food shortages and continued spending almost half of the national budget purchasing Soviet-Bloc weapons. As in many other nations, production of traditional food crops has declined as more and more land is planted with cash crops for export.
Similar neglect in other African nations recently prompted Hilary Ng'Weno, editor of Nairobi's Weekly Review, to comment, "Many of the leaders mismanaged economies, squandered national wealth, and literally threw away the future as they jostled with one another for personal power and gain. When it was not greed that motivated them, it was folly and gullibility."
Why so much lack of concern for the sufferings of others? Isn't it simply that our compassion has been blunted by the selfishness fostered by today's rampant, widespread materialism? This problem was noted by Pope John Paul II, who said in a speech given in November of 1979 to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, "Hunger in the world does not always just come from geographic, climatic, or unfavorable agricultural circumstances, those that you are trying little by little to improve. . . . It comes also from man himself." The human factor in the hunger problem has led many religious leaders to urge a fundamental redirection of human energies away from greed, selfishness, and the pursuit of artificial "necessities."
If we are to solve the problem of hunger we must return to genuine spiritual values. Understanding that the real self is not the body but the conscious self within the body automatically reduces greed and conflict. A human being with such knowledge is satisfied with the natural, comfortable necessities of life and does not strive to increase his needs or to induce others to increase theirs. When spiritual goals replace material goals, qualities such as compassion and concern for others automatically replace the material qualities of greed and selfishness.
A greater sense of world community is another important consequence of replacing material goals with spiritual ones. At present the human race is divided into thousands of national, racial, religious, cultural, sexual, and economic groupings. The bodily concept of life is the root cause of this splintering. A person who is free from identifying with the material body does not see others primarily in terms of their physical, bodily natures. He sees the conscious selves within all bodies as essentially identical and equal. Seeing humanity as one family, such a person naturally responds more quickly and effectively to the sufferings of others.
At present the world has enough grain surpluses to provide minimum relief to the world's worst crisis spots, such as Ethiopia. But in order to deal effectively with the total problem of world hunger we must search for ways to dramatically increase the world's available supply of food. Many food experts have concluded that this can be done only by shifting away from the meat-based diet now prevalent in the developed countries of the world and moving toward a vegetarian diet.
In America, for example, about ninety percent of all the harvested grain is fed to animals that are eventually slaughtered for meat. Yet information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals that for every seven pounds of grain fed to animals raised for slaughter, we receive only one pound of meat in return. InDiet for a Small Planet, Francis Moore Lappe points out that in America alone, 120 million tons of grain out of the total of 145 million tons fed to animals is thus lost for the purpose of human consumption. To convey what this means in human terms, she explains that 120 million tons would provide every man, woman, and child on earth with a portion of one cup of cooked grain every day of the year.
So if the world's political and religious leaders would truly like to demonstrate their concern for the victims of hunger, they should adopt a vegetarian diet and urge others to do so as well. The Hare Krsna movement is one of the world's leading promoters of a vegetarian diet as a long-range solution to the problem of world hunger. And to relieve the immediate effects of hunger, the Hare Krsna devotees are feeding disaster victims, the homeless, the unemployed, and the hungry through the Hare Krsna Food for Life program.
But looking beyond this, a person conversant with Vedic knowledge and trained in the Vedic system of self-realization sees that all human beings are caught in the sufferings of disease, old age, and death, to which even the richest and most well-fed among us must eventually succumb. Therefore the members of the Hare Krsna movement work not only to relieve the sufferings of the external body, but also to alleviate the sufferings of the soul. They accomplish this by widely disseminating the transcendental knowledge contained in the Vedic scriptures.