Photo by Macy Cox
Harding University’s American Studies Institute (ASI) hosted its second distinguished lecture series event of the semester on Wednesday, Nov. 2, to focus on the topic of global food insecurity. The guests at the event were David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) and former governor of South Carolina, Arkansas Senator John Boozman, and former Walmart chief financial officer Brett Biggs.
The program began with Beasley talking in chapel at 9 a.m. about his efforts heading the UNWFP and how his faith drives his passion to end world hunger. Since 2017, Beasley has served as executive director of UNWFP, which is the largest humanitarian organization in the world focused on hunger and food security. In 2020, the World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize under Beasley’s leadership.
“At the World Food Programme, we feel like we use food as a weapon of peace, just as modeled and talked about by the prince of peace,” Beasley said in an interview with The Bison.
Beasley also talked about his interpretation of Leviticus 19:18 as being better translated to “Love your neighbor as your equal” and how the verse should be the basis of interpretation for all scripture.
“The difference is when you love your neighbor as yourself you can narrowly define that,” Beasley said. “But if you love your neighbor as your equal, seeing as that equal is in the image of God, it broadens it in such a way that gives a greater context.”
After chapel, Boozman and Biggs joined Beasley for a panel discussion at 10 a.m. that was open to students and faculty. It focused more on faith in the workplace and how that had played out for each of them as Christians in their respective fields. Boozman, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has helped pass several legislation efforts to help fight hunger.
“The way you change the world is [through] personal relationships,” Boozman said. “When you look at your life, what’s the evidence of your faith?”
The ASI event continued with its main panel at 3 p.m., facilitated by University President Mike Williams. During this discussion, Beasley went into more detail about the number of people facing starvation globally.
“We are in a crisis,” Beasley said. “There’s $430 trillion worth of wealth on the planet today, and the fact that a child dies every four to five seconds from hunger-related issues is a shame, a disgrace on humanity.”
Beasley also warned that due to continued conflict and climate shock, the world will soon be faced with food shortages and food price inflation.
“[We’re] gonna have a food availability problem in 2023 based upon the direction that we’re headed,” Beasley said.
During chapel, Beasley said his organization believed that world hunger could be solved by 2030, but not at the rate humanity is going.
“If we end conflict and war, we could end extreme hunger,” Beasley said. “Even with climate change and everything we’re facing, but if you don’t end the wars, you can’t end the hunger.”
Biggs, a Harding alumnus, served as the CFO at Walmart, the largest food retailer in the world, from 2016 to 2022. He said during the panel that he felt Harding was an appropriate place to convene on a topic like food insecurity.
“When you think about Harding’s mission and what so many students have been trained to do, I think with the topic of hunger and food insecurity, this is the type of place it needs to happen,” Biggs said. “Convening at places and events like this [is] important, but we’ve got to go do something after this.”
On a local scale, efforts are already being made to combat food insecurity in the community. One project has been the Student Association’s (SA) community garden, which has helped provide fresh produce to Jacob’s Place Homeless Mission in Searcy, according to Ella Duryea, a junior representative for the SA and the head of the community garden committee.
“[Earlier] in the fall, we’d harvest whatever we had, and we’d take it over to Jacob’s Place, [where] it would be used as ingredients for homeless people to cook their own food,” Duryea said.
Dr. Andrea Morris, the assistant to the provost for strategic initiatives, and junior Tucker Lovell have also been initiating conversations with different organizations across campus to gain student insight on what needs to be done to better combat local food insecurity. The two will be revealing their formalized program plan based on this insight during chapel today. Morris said the timing of this ASI event with the conversations that have already been happening was entirely coincidental.
“When I learned that the executive director of the United Nations Food Programme was coming here, I said, ‘God, look at what you are doing,’” Morris said. “I was humbled and grateful that we had already begun a conversation.”