In Buenos Aires, Argentina, human rights attorney Marcos Ezequiel Filardi built El Museo del Hambre, or the Hunger Museum, in the basement of his home. Filardi’s aim is to share the idea that hunger should only be found in a museum. Using a modern understanding of indigenous agricultural knowledge and urban food landscapes, El Museo del Hambre works to create a dialogue surrounding global food security and food sovereignty in Argentina and South America.
El Museo del Hambre features exhibitions on Argentina’s crop production and agricultural staples, emphasizing the impact that foreign seed companies have had on changing the country’s rural landscape and diet.
Food Tank interviewed Filardi on his desire to build El Museo del Hambre into a community gathering space that prompts an international discussion on the future of food security.
Food Tank (FT): Describe your work and what inspired you to start the Hunger Museum.
Marcos Ezequiel Filardi (MF): I was very young when the Ethiopian famine of 1984–85 claimed 1 million lives; and when, years later, it returned to wreak havoc in Somalia. But a memory of those days still haunts me today. As a child, I was glued to the TV screen, seeing how other children, just like me, were struggling between life and death, simply because they have nothing to eat. Children who haven’t made it to adulthood like me.
I think it was in those moments that I incubated my desire to be in those distant lands and learn the causes of the suffering of their peoples. After graduating as a human rights lawyer, I managed to do it. I interned for a year and half in the world’s poorest countries to follow the footsteps of hunger.
When I returned to Argentina, I was not the same, nor could I be. Vocation, once faint, turned incisive and unrelenting because it is deeply moving to see the statistics in the flesh and bone, naked, in the stunted body of a child with marasmus; in the peeling skin of a child with kwashiorkor; in the anemic (or blind) eyes of a peasant; and in the daily, silent pilgrimage of children to nutrition rehabilitation centers. Once you have seen this, you cannot remain numb.
So I came back with the idea that hunger should be secluded, once and for all, within the boundaries of a museum. After embarking on a new one-year trip for food sovereignty around Argentina, along with many people who are struggling for food sovereignty, we decided to set up the Hunger Museum (hunger, only in a museum).
FT: What do you hope visitors glean from their experience at the museum?
MF: The Museum is an excuse; it may or may not have permanent or temporary exhibits. It is a meeting point. A place of convergence of all men and women who, collectively, are willing to struggle for food sovereignty.
Because the ‘eradication of hunger’ has turned the favorite legitimizing argument of the dominant food system—which we know already it is absolutely false—we want to be clear from the outset: we fight against the dominant food system based on monocultures, GMOs, agrotoxics, and retailers, and we stand for food sovereignty instead. We are convinced that agroecology, food sovereignty, and social economy are the only ways to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and, more, to achieve wellbeing for all. What we hope in the end is that every person who comes to the Museum becomes a seed of food sovereignty and contributes to the collective struggle.
FT: Describe Museo del Hambre’s content? What stories does it share and explain?
MF: The Museum offers movies, debates, a popular library on food issues, book presentations, farmers’ market, workshops on agroecological farming, natural construction, compost, cooking, and alternative medicines, among others. It provides the concepts and tools to effectively work for food sovereignty. It is also a meeting point of the Free Chairs on Food Sovereignty, spaces within [Argentina’s] public universities that are promoting the public debate over the food system, and of the Network of Lawyers for Food Sovereignty, a network of lawyers who are working in different parts of the country on food sovereignty issues, contributing with their legal knowledge to the struggle for food sovereignty.
FT: According to Oxfam International, the world produces enough food to feed every person on the planet; why does global hunger still exist? What are the root causes of hunger?
MF: Nature is not to blame for hunger. Hunger is a man-made disaster. Today, we could be feeding double the world population, but we are producing, distributing, and consuming our food in such a wrong way that one third of the food that is produced doesn´t even reach a mouth; and stuffed and starved, as Raj Patel puts it, stand side by side.
A child who dies of starvation is a victim of the unjust social order we have created. Since food has become a commodity, those who have money have access to it, and those who don’t just perish. And those who have little money are condemned to a poor diet.
It is in our hands, collectively, to reverse that. At the heart of the problem is inequality. As Oxfam puts it, only eight people (eight men, in fact) own as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, and the richest one percent are richer than half of humanity. So we need to fight for equality in all its forms including gender equality. We need to fight to guarantee equitable access to land, water, and seeds. We need to expand agroecology and get together peasants directly with urban consumers through networks and fairs. We need to intensify the networks within local communities. We need to fight against GMOs, monocultures, agrotoxics, the concentration of the food chain, and speculation over food.
FT: How does the struggle to eliminate hunger in Buenos Aires compare to other parts of Argentina and the world? Would you like to see other forms of the Hunger Museum around the world—in what way and where?
MF: Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is the richest city in the country. But inequality reigns within the city and life expectancy, for instance, is much higher in the poor neighborhoods of the south and in the slums than in the rest of the city. Hunger, malnutrition, and obesity are prevalent among the urban poor.
Sixty percent of the cultivated land in Argentina is devoted to just one crop: genetically modified soybeans. If you add genetically modified corn and cotton, you reach 70 percent. This dominant food system based on monocultures, genetically modified crops, and agrotoxics is displacing peasants and native peoples. More than 100,000 small-scale farmers, due to the lack of access to land or work in the rural areas, were forced to migrate in the last 20 years to the cities. Argentina now has a 94 percent of urban population. It is producing floods since forests are destroyed to give room to a crop with small roots. It is destroying the soils, wetlands, jungles, and biodiversity. It is polluting the water, air, and food and sickening and killing rural workers and Sprayed Towns due to the use of 380 million litres of agrotoxics per year. It is displacing other food items, turning them less accessible. It is intensifying other food productions, feedlots, for instance. And it is doing all this because supposedly we ‘need to feed the world,’ and Argentina ‘exports food security.’ This dominant food system not only does not export food security to the world, but also it is not capable of realizing the right to food within the country: children in the northern provinces die of starvation, chronic hunger is high, and we have 60 percent of obesity and chronic diseases linked to a poor diet increasing day by day. This is a similar phenomenon in different parts of the world because it lies at the root of the dominant food system worldwide. But, at the same time, more and more people are not only resisting the dominant model but also building, collectively and creatively, other ways based on agroecology, social economy, and food sovereignty. So there is room for hope.
More than reproducing the Hunger Museum in other parts of the world, we would love to see people from all over the world—as it is increasingly happening—join this wonderful and collective struggle for food sovereignty and to abandon, at our death, a world with no hunger.
Connect with the Museum of Hunger online by following their Facebook page.