Profile: Bread for the World

“I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.”
Leo Tolstoy

As you think about what organization to give to this season, consider this:  One of the best ways to help the poor around the world is for Americans to dismantle our own power.  Twenty billion of our tax dollars go to support mostly large agribusinesses.  In turn, they overproduce crops (watch the documentary King Corn) and then outprice Third World farmers in their own markets.  A legacy of the Great Depression when we wanted to help small farmers (which made sense then), farm subsidies now support huge farm companies (which doesn’t make sense now).  A Nov 2005 report says that 62 cents of every dollar that a U.S. farmer makes is funded by a government subsidy. In the last decade, recipients of the farm subsidies (in the five and six digits) included John Hancock Life Insurance Co., Chevron, banker David Rockefeller, basketball star Scottie Pippen, and former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay. Yes, these guys are “farmers.”

You would think that Democrats and Republicans would unite to get rid of these subsidies.  Democrats because they are for the poor and against corporate welfare, and Republicans because they are against government interference in the free market.  But those who benefit from the U.S. Farm Bill have been tenacious.

That’s one reason I support Bread for the World.  BTFW is a Christian political advocacy group whose goal is to end hunger.  They do excellent research and mobilization.  They help congregations and other groups write to their elected officials.  For example, Boston College’s Asian Christian Fellowship decided to do a letter writing campaign to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, asking him reform U.S. foreign aid policy so that it would be independent of U.S. military goals and truly attentive to the world’s poorest nations. And they take stands against the current U.S. Farm Bill, which will come up for a vote again in 2012.

BTFW also focuses on domestic poverty and hunger.  On Dec. 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law.  It reauthorizes funding for national child nutrition programs such as school lunches—the subject of BTFW’s advocacy during the last two years.

In many ways, giving towards political advocacy like BTFW is less “sexy” than giving to a charity or economic development organization doing direct service.  I’m less sure exactly how money is being spent.  I’m less sure whether the money I give is “making a difference.”  And yet, perhaps this is a reason to summon even more spiritual discipline (e.g. like giving in secret from Matthew 6:1 – 18) and Jesus’ love.  Let’s face it:  Sometimes we feel more powerful and “in control” when we give money to people “charitably”, even if we know we sit on the backs of those very people in the first place.

For more information, visit the BTFW website at  It’s a great resource with up to date statistics, policy analysis, and Bible studies on God’s command to care for the poor.


6 thoughts on “Profile: Bread for the World

  1. Thanks for bringing attention to Bread for us, Mako! I actually serve with Bread as a Hunger Justice Fellow and got to meet with many members of Bread’s board and leadership this past June in anticipation of it annual Lobby Day, and I wanted to add a few thoughts in support of giving to Bread.

    As someone who was a bit cynical about the efficacy and efficiency of nonprofit operations, I have to say that I was incredibly impressed by not only the passion and dedication to effecting systemic change but also the competence and empirical rigor that Bread staff apply to their work.

    For example, to drive its work and build an anti-justice coalition, Bread partners with diverse organizations across the faith spectrum, and it also boasts a robust team of policy analysts whose sophistication and expertise proved credible during the conversations I had with them during workshop.

    Furthermore, Bread has long-standing relationships with our leaders in Capitol Hill, and its combined strengths as discussed above render it a powerful advocate for the hungry. In fact, this past year, Rev. David Beckmann (President of Bread) was awarded the 2010 World Food Prize laureate, which is the Nobel Prize equivalent for food and agriculture, along with Jo Luck, president of Heifer International.

    If anyone has any more questions about Bread, I would be happy to field them or point them in the right direction. 🙂

    • Hi Ada,

      I’m really glad to see that you’re involved with Bread. I’m pretty interested in how U.S. domestic agricultural policy has distorted not only trade with developing countries but also the nation’s health. (Thank you Michael Pollan!)

      Could you point me to some specific research papers about Bread’s positions/advocacy on either the previous Farm Bills or the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill?


      • Hi, Stina,

        Thanks for your interest in Bread’s Farm Bill position. I would be happy to see what information I can find on this, though it may be after the holiday because the Bread staff I work with are on vacation! I have to say, though, that last I checked, its major advocacy push for the new year (this year it was the EITC/CTC) was going to be foreign aid reform, so I’m not sure how updated its externally safe position materials may be.

        Do email me if I forget!


  2. Hi Mako,

    I harbor a lot of anger towards the industrial food complex and I’m glad to see this issue brought up.

    I like the mission of Bread for the World but I think they should change their name to “Protein for the World” or “Vegetables for the World” since a lot of bread is actually quite bad for humans.

    I read through the summary fact sheet of Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and its main emphasis is on expanding the reach of the school lunch / breakfast program and giving the USDA more power over the nutritional standards in the school lunch programs.

    People should be aware that the nutritional standards in the National School Lunch programs are abysmal, most of it due to the USDA’s strong relationships with the agro-industrial complex. Almost no food is cooked, all of it comes frozen and pre-processed, french fries count as vegetables, processed cheese count as protein, and chocolate milk with 25g of sugar is acceptable. To its credit, the Department of Defense does deliver fresh fruit and vegetables to low income schools sporadically using its logistics infrastructure and buying power. But it’s random and unpredictable and there is no guarantee that a child will have access to fresh produce in every meal.

    The improvements in this bill are mostly symbolic and incremental and will do little to promote wellness in children, especially since we know that the USDA is politically conflicted organization (can we really trust an agency who is in charge of distributing the nation’s harvest to livestock or human mouths AND nutritional standards at the same time?!) A recent NYT article points out how the USDA with one hand is nagging people to eat less saturated fat while with the other is trying to figure out ways to get their residual milkfat consumed by Americans. (Pizza Hut’s new cheesier crust is a result of these efforts…)

    Yes, I concede it is probably better for children who have irregular food access to get regular access to food even if the food is cr*p. And better nutritional standards are better than no change a tall. So while I do like the spirit of Bread’s efforts, I think people should know that we are still a long way off from the goal of providing truly nutritious low-cost meals to poor children. I’m not so sure if political lobbying of the USDA is the most effective way…. in the spirit of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution I wish there were some organization that would raise money for public school districts’ food services that would allow them to spend more money on either better food suppliers or better cooks and cooking techniques. Now that’s an organization I would donate a lot of money to…

    • Hi Christina,

      Thanks very much for your comments and fact reporting. Your point about the incremental benefit is well taken. I’m also quite discouraged by the FDA, USDA, and other government organizations supposedly protecting us. I watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and was struck by the abysmal standards as well. For example, I didn’t know that chocolate milk or strawberry milk has more sugar than soda, and yet qualifies as “milk.” Yikes.

      Have you seen the documentary “The Future of Food”?

  3. Pingback: How to Get Started in Giving « Simple Living for Just Giving

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