I’m sitting at my desk eating a free lunch and trying to catch up on the news from an international food summit currently taking place in Rome. It is being sponsored by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Pope Benedict told delegates that hunger and malnutrition are, “unacceptable in a world where resources and knowledge” can solve the crisis.

His admonition predicts a growing challenge. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is telling world leaders that production of food must grow by 50 percent by 2030.

The concerns of U.S. Secretary of the Agriculture Ed Schafer are more immediate. He says: “We are anticipating this year an over 40 percent increase in food price inflation globally, 43 percent approximately. Of that, we can identify 2 to 3 percent driven by biofuels. A majority, of course, is energy, and the second largest piece, or about equal piece, is the increase in consumption around the world, which is using up the production stocks.”

This pending development is an important corrective to our all-too-common complaints about growing gas prices. The impact of rising energy costs for most Americans is a mere inconvenience compared to what it means for the world’s poor, that being basic survival.

While Americans might become wiser and thriftier–slowing down, taking public transportation, walking and biking short distances and overall reducing our carbon footprint–others in the world cling to the razor-thin line between starvation and desperation, if not between life and death.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf opened the summit with an appeal to the world’s leaders for $30 billion to provide direct food aid to feed the world’s hungry and to address more permanent solutions like more seeds and fertilizer for poor farmers, fewer export bans and tariffs that restrict the flow of trade, and more research to improve crop yields.

Diouf points out that the world spent $ 1.2 trillion on arms while food wasted in a single country (I think he means us!) could cost $100 billion, and excess consumption by the world’s obese amounted to $20 billion.

“Against that backdrop, how can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find 30 billion dollars a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus, the right to life?” Diouf said.

Considering how my decisions impact the world, I guess this wasn’t such a free lunch after all.

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.

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