Do you feel more empathy for certain people in need than you do for others? Feeding America CEO Diana Aviv says we need to “close the empathy gap.” She discusses empathy and food with Nick Stefanelli, chef/owner of Masseria Restaurant in DC, and Share Our Strength founders Billy and Debbie Shore on this episode of Add Passion and Stir. Aviv cites recent research that found people who were sympathetic toward people using food banks changed their attitudes when asked about people using public assistance. “The only group they didn’t change their attitude towards was kids,” she says. This indicates that in order to solve the hunger problem, we need to help people extend their empathy for children to the whole family. Stefanelli fights child hunger by supporting No Kid Hungry and teaching about food and cooking in kindergarten classes. “[Hunger] is an issue that we’ve been looking at since ancient Rome, with the grain sheds and giving out bread, and we’re still dealing with it in 2017,” he says.
Aviv notes that Share Our Strength has done a great job tapping into the giving spirit and making it easy for chefs to get involved. Billy and Debbie Shore observe that it would be hard to find a chef who is not supporting a cause. “Chefs and restaurants are looking for ways to get involved and just waiting to be asked,” Debbie says. Stefanelli cites a strong connection to his heritage from the Puglia region of Italy, where food and community are fundamentally intertwined, for why he gives back. “Food brings everybody together. What happens at the table when people come together is a very important thing,” he says.
Feeding America, which runs a nationwide network of foodbanks, is currently focused on using technology to build greater efficiency into the distribution of food to the hungry. Aviv mentions Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and its focus on efficiency. “There are huge opportunities to take that technology … and develop ways we can get the food faster to the people who need it,” she says. Quoting statistics that 21% of our fresh water is used to produce food – of which 40% goes to waste – Aviv declares: “We can feed America and we can feed the world.”
Listen to this powerful conversation about the power of empathy in ending hunger in America.