February 2018
The Power of Narrative Change: From Charity to Social Justice

The Nourishing Change newsletter is a forum for sharing information and resources to enrich our conversations and efforts to organize for the most basic of human rights - the right to food The content of these newsletters will seek to illuminate the particular conditions that, when all are realized, define the right to food: food that is accessible both physically and economically; food that is adequate for optimal health and nutrition; food that is available through means that promote self-determination and dignity; and food that is sustainable produced and consumed and promotes the health and well-being of the environment.

Why the framing of this newsletter around the "right to food?" Charitable programs combined with government food assistance and entitlement programs cannot accomplish the goals of ending hunger and food insecurity. WhyHunger believes that it is time to reframe the narrative on what it will take to end hunger in the United States and to deepen our understanding and support efforts that address the root causes of hunger, such as racism, falling real wages, rising inequality in income and assets. The conversations and shared learning that will shift strategic actions must incorporate the people at the front lines of hunger and food insecurity in their design and implementation. The Nourishing Change newsletter is but one seed in this emerging landscape of a just and robust people-centered future.
In this issue of the Nourishing Change newsletter, we are discussing the power of narrative change.

At its core narrative change is about storytelling. But a narrative is more than just a story. More precisely, it is the retelling of a story or a set of stories, characters and plot twists that shape our collective understanding of how the world works. These stories, and who controls them, have the power to justify and maintain the status quo, and the power to create possibility and pave the way for change. 
Narrative is one of the most powerful ways that history is shaped because it relies on the teller and the choices she or he makes about what to leave out, what to emphasize, and for what purpose. The power of narrative has never been as clearly illustrated as is in our currently political climate. When we analyze this political and cultural moment, it is easy to see the strategies behind which stories we are told and by whom, who is being cast as a hero, villain, victim, and how stories and framing are being used to shape our collective understanding.
The "dominant" narrative is one that is told and repeated by the dominant culture, creating cultural norms and reinforcing existing systems and structures. But what about the stories of those who are ignored or erased because they go against that status quo? How could we shift the dominate narrative by amplifying their voices and experiences, by telling those stories? How could policies, strategies and behaviors shift if an alternative narrative was crafted?

WhyHunger has been working with partners who are part of Closing the Hunger Gap to invest in understanding how to shift the dominant narratives around hunger and its solutions to create the political possibility for our movements to succeed. Ultimately we want to change the story as a tool to create the conditions for practices and policies to change. As we begin to analyze together these dominant narratives about hunger and its solutions, we begin to pull back the curtains and discover the underlying assumptions and beliefs that in the public stories and messaging that prevent us from ending hunger once and for all. 
For instance, we are accustomed to seeing and reading stories about campaigns for food drives, volunteering at soup kitchens, major food companies and grocery stores teaming up with food banks to distribute more pounds of food to more people. Core to this narrative is the belief that we can end hunger through charity, and that it is up to us - those who have resources and means - to help them - those who do not. Few of us would argue that charity is not an important value; giving to make others' lives better is a good thing. And, while this narrative is effective, it is simplistic and not rooted in the experiences of those living with food security every day. What is not shared in the telling and retelling of the story of hunger in our country through the lens of the dominant culture, is the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the institutional racism that keeps poor people poor, the fact that the majority of people who are helped by food banks or who benefit from SNAP are children, elders and working families; and the role of our government in maintaining policies that continue to work to the advantage of a minority of our country's citizens. The same structures that allow the wealthy and the middle class to continue to buy into the narrative that charity will take care of social problems, have intentionally denied marginalized groups - those who are among the most food insecure -- from access to resources and opportunities that would generate familial and community wealth.

For example, the statement released by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights touches on the stereotypes that are maintained by the "bootstraps narrative or myth" which reinforces the idea that those who wish to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the US have the means to do so through "hard work", but choose not to. This narrative completely disregards the systems of oppression and policies - from land to housing to wages - that keep people impoverished. It perpetuates the view that poverty in the U.S. is a result of individual actions and choices, not structures and systems. Unless we have alternative narratives that tell the story of systems level problems, we will never achieve systems level solutions. Changing the narrative is an important step in creating the political and social conditions that will allow us to build the world we want to see.
Andy Fisher's article 'Fight Hunger by Fighting Poverty and Powerlessness' highlights this point:

Food banks typically measure their success by the weight of the food they distribute and the number of people they serve. The heavier the food, the better. The more people they serve, the more successful they appear to be. Yet, pounds distributed and people served are not outcome measures but outputs.They do not assess impact. Most important, they fail to recognize that food is the solution to hunger only in the most illusory and temporary of ways. It fails to resolve the underlying problems that lead people to lack sufficient food in the first place.

The questions of why poverty is a cycle and why it's so difficult to escape are ones we must focus on addressing in our organizations. And one tool for diving deep into that analysis is through examining dominant narratives, exposing them for the parts of the story they leave out, for who is holding the megaphone, and then crafting a different story that is rooted in the real-life experiences of those most impacted by persistent poverty. We need a new narrative that challenges the beliefs and assumptions about how the world works so that our movements succeed in bringing about the change we want to see in the world - a world that is bending toward justice. Shaping this new narrative will take time, perseverance and collaboration.

And yet the collective power that lies just beneath the surface of these dominant narratives is beginning to take root. The steadily growing movement to improve food security and build food justice in America is  beginning to blossom as we in the anti-hunger movement coalesce around concerns about economic inequality, labor rights, environmental health, and sustainable agriculture. The systemic change that needs to occur starts when communities hold governments and institutions accountable when they fail to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to food for all. Narrative change is one of the key tools in our fight for social justice while balancing the important work going on currently to ensure that people today have enough good food to eat. While the need to feed folks will always be among us, we must simultaneously fight for a world where these occasions are true emergencies and not chronic food insecurity.
WhyHunger Narrative Change Snapshot Results

Over the last year, WhyHunger, CTHG and a task force of nine food access organizations and food justice leaders from across the country have been working with the Center for Story-Based Strategy to begin developing a narrative change strategy to group our collective work. Further details and more opportunities to engage in this work will be shared during the coming year. As part of the process, we engaged in a national survey, ongoing trainings, a day-long workshop, attended by 40+ organizations, and deep dive session at the CTHG conference last year.

Some of key recommendations from the analysis, which are grounding our work moving forward, include prioritizing:   
  • Building further consensus on the need for a social justice narrative for hunger alleviation.
  • Establishing a collective definition of the root causes of hunger and social justice as they relate to hunger alleviation.
  • Creating tools to help individual organizations build capacity to do the work of creating a social justice lens for their organization.
  • Instilling the need for story when communicating rather than stating the facts.
  • Using specific findings in the snapshot report - ratings of images and concepts, data about audiences and beliefs and feedback from respondents as a jumping off point for conversations around what the current narratives around hunger are and in future discussions of creating a new story.
You can see the results of the survey snapshot report here.
Try Out these Questions for Discussion in Your Organization
  • What is the dominant narrative in the emergency food system? The larger narrative around food access? What is the dominant story about who is hungry or food insecure and why? What does the current message leave out? How does this dominant narrative shape the strategies and tactics we employ to address issues of hunger in this country?
  • What are the root causes of hunger? Why is poverty persistent among certain demographics or regions?  What is the role of racism, poverty, capitalism, patriarchy, economic injustice, and climate change in the dominant narrative? In a new narrative?
Check out this overview of how to develop a story-based strategy to change the narrative in service to our movements and ending hunger at its root causes. 
Partner Talk: The Importance of Narrative Change

We spoke with two of our partners, food justice organizer Shane Bernardo and Kristen Kozlowski at  Bread for the City , about the importance of narrative change and how we can highlight the true solutions to ending hunger.

A Conversation with Shane Bernardo, storyteller, healing practitioner and food justice organizer

What are ways that food access organizations can lift up the true solutions or tell the stories that highlight the true solutions?

Placing people that have been historically and systemically marginalized by structures of power in a place where they have the most agency around changing and dismantling those systems. By telling their own stories and doing it from a non-passive voice, so that we're literally changing the power dynamics at play that continue to victimize people in chronic poverty and hunger. That in itself as a practice is a huge thing on the way to creating systemic change; telling our own stories. So in other words, when we tell our own stories, we're able to write our own selves in as victors of those stories versus being victims. 

A Conversation with Kristen Kozlowski, Associate Director of Development, at Bread for the City in Washington, DC

What are the stories you believe are important to tell that highlight the "true solutions" to ending hunger?

It's important to recognize that hunger is complex, especially in the United States where the problem isn't always lack of food, but instead of lack of affordable and nutritious food. The agriculture industry is being transformed by innovation. This means efficient, cost effective food production. But innovation is not responsive to the needs of people that have low incomes, and who live in food deserts. The challenge of capitalism is that opportunities make their way to those with the most resources: fresh foods and ones that aren't processed are too expensive for our clients, and groceries stores are seldom operated in communities where people with low incomes live. At Bread for the City, our job is to serve people in communities that aren't favored in that way. We are the counterpart of this model. It's also important to share stories that reflect the fact that food insecurity impacts people of color in such a disproportional way. The lack of dollars, the income disparity for this community, is getting worse. The trajectory isn't looking much better, but it is a call to action for many of us in the nonprofit sector. As a service provider, we have to think how to reform our own programs to be more responsive to this adverse path. A "true solution" to ending hunger is going to have to engage with the history of racism in America and with the reality of the extreme income inequality we are experiencing as a society.

Read more of their thoughts here
What We're Reading
"Challenging the Dominant Narratives around Hunger"

Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, a Community Food Resource Center in Bloomington, Indiana discusses the stories we tell ourselves about hunger and how they shape our approach to solutions on Earth Eats, a weekly podcast.

Listen here

"When It Comes to Your Health, Your Local Economy Matters"

Where a person lives, works and plays matters. A public health researcher interested in how society affects our health, discusses how research shows where you live plays a powerful role on your health.

Read the report and article here
"How a Fast Food Worker Became an Activist"

Rather than accept the unlivable wages and unpredictable scheduling that working in fast food often requires, Shantal Walker decided to try to make a positive change for herself and other workers like her. In 2013, she joined the  Fight for 15- the nationwide advocacy movement that successfully won an increase in the minimum wage in New York City and elsewhere. She now spends the little free time she has doing unpaid organizing work for  Fast Food Justice and  Fast Food Forward, two grassroots advocacy nonprofits geared to the needs of fast food industry workers.

Read about her story here.

 Center for Story-Based Strategy

The Center for Story-Based Strategy's mission is to apply the power of narrative to organizing, movement building, and social transformation . CSS is dedicated to holistic social change practices - shifting from issues to values, supplementing organization building with movement building, and exploring creative new strategies for confronting systemic problems. To learn more about their work, visit their website .  

Join them for an online convening to discuss, plan and create cultural tools that connect the Black Panther movie and the fight for justice on February 19th from 12-7pm PST / 3-10pm EST. Learn more here .

CSS  has an Intro Training which will be a full-day introduction to story-based strategy on March 19th in Oakland, CA. Learn more and apply here.
Report: The Poor People's Campaign, 50 Years Later
50 years after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders launched a Poor People's Campaign  to organize towards transformative actions to address poverty, racism, and militarism in America, the Institute of Policy Studies issued a report and analysis of how far we've come on the core issues.

Read the report here  and connect with the recently re-launched  Poor People's Campaign  across the country.
Help Update the Find Food Database
WhyHunger continues to expand the comprehensive  Find Food database  of emergency food providers (food banks, food pantries, food access sites). We need your help! Please verify that your organization's profile is accurate in the database. If you need to update your record, please email:  database@whyhunger.org . If your organization is not in the database, please join us  here . And if your organization has multiple sites, we can bulk upload that information.  Just contact us at nhc@whyhunger.org .
Making the database as comprehensive as possible is critical in making food even more accessible to those calling and texting our WhyHunger Hotline. Please consider helping us spread the word by  downloading and sharing Hotline flyers with your networks and on social media. 
Join us as we work with our partners -- emergency food providers, food access organizations, community health organizations and other grassroots and national allies -- to transform the charitable response to hunger in the U.S. into a more equitable and inclusive social justice movement that recognizes nutritious food as a human right.
To share your ideas, submit articles, provide feedback, contact: Betty Fermin, nourish@whyhunger.org
In This Issue
Please verify that your organization's profile is accurate in the  database . To update your record, email
database@whyhunger.org. If your organization is not in the database, please join us  here.  The WhyHunger Hotline number is 1-800-5-HUNGRY. Please update your records and find outreach materials  here.   
Nourishing Change is a  space to share critical thoughts around the systemic change that needs to happen to end hunger and transform the emergency food system. 

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