iram Larew, a lifelong food security chief, says poetry can activate and sustain the commitment towards a hunger-free future. He launched Poetry X Hunger in 2018, calling on poets to join the anti-hunger cause.
Many poems since published have been quoted and referenced by anti-hunger organisations, farmers, scientists, professors, community leaders and businesses engaged in global work towards a hunger-free future.
Dr Larew’s initiative is a meeting of his two passions: poetry and food security. He says, “while many kids of my generation were captivated by chemistry kits, I was mesmerised by a plant kit. For as long as I can recall, plants have been my favourite source of balm and wonder.”
He pursued this interest through an MS degree in Botany and Plant Pathology and a PhD in Entomology from Oregon State University, and went on to serve as Director of International Programs at the United States National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
Dr Larew began Poetry X Hunger when he was asked to guest lecture on the poetry of hunger.
“Up until that request, I’d kept these two interests separate. During the day, I worked on various aspects of international agriculture. And of an evening, I participated in poetry readings. Until that lecture, my professional interests and my love of poetry hadn’t met,” he explains.
“Poetry can grab hearts in a way data, trendlines and statistics simply can’t”
It was only while conducting research for this lecture that Larew realised there wasn’t enough poetry about hunger.
“I realised that I might be able to help, that I should bring two of my avid interests together,” he says.
“I could ask poets to write poems that anti-hunger advocates might use. Knowing that over the years, poetry had drawn the public’s attention to issues such as homelessness, poverty, racial injustice, immigration and the like, I was, and still am, convinced that poetry can just as effectively help fight hunger. And so, I launched Poetry X Hunger.
“Poetry won’t eliminate hunger. But poetry can grab hearts in a way data, trendlines and statistics simply can’t.
“I’ve seen a poem capture the attention of busy, distracted experts, politicians, teenagers and seasoned hunger fighters.”
He says progress is made when a poem makes a reader to stop and ask why hunger exists. His work will not be complete until hunger is completely eliminated.
“Our food systems rise and fall on the elusive nature of political will and public commitment”
In a role with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), he directed programmes in sustainable development and food across Asia and Africa. He also helped to launch an agricultural partnership with India and programmes to help food research in Iraq.
Now, with Poetry X Hunger, he is determined to help those in the US suffering from hunger caused by an unreliable food system.
“The pandemic has seriously reversed progress on hunger in the US,” he says. “Our food systems in the US and the world will rise and fall on the elusive nature of political will and public commitment. I firmly believe poetry can activate and sustain that will, that commitment towards a hunger-free future.”
Read Testimony, by last year’s Food Day poetry competition winner Brian Donnell James.
From 1998 until his retirement in February 2015, Dr Larew served as Director of International Programs at the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. He transformed international agricultural science programmes into models for sustainable development overseas by fostering partnerships between American university, business, government and charitable organisations to assist countries around the world.