Rare is the map that would label the stretch of Interstate 80 running through Iowa as a “scenic route.”  To most drivers, it is a straight, flat, smooth track to test speed limits and challenge radar devices; for many passengers, it is a time to nod off.

But, really, cruising down I-80 in the summer is one of the most wondrous, and paradoxical, drives in the country.

It can be a journey of inspiration, traveling over the rich soil, past the verdant fields of corn and soybeans and all manner of crops and livestock. The drive provides abundant time to admire the work of the state’s farmers, scientists, researchers and advocates who share a hunger-fighting kinship with Norman Borlaug, the Iowan whose leadership of the Green Revolution earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it is also a journey of outrage. For who can look out the window and not wonder: my goodness, all this bounty and we still have hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century? How can one in every four children under five years old in our world today be stunted? How can one in six children in our own communities live in food insecure households, with families struggling to provide three sufficiently nutritious meals a day?

I have traversed this trail of irony often,  first as a student at the University of Iowa, and then as a journalist, having visited the farms and the agriculture labs – as well as the soup kitchens and food pantries – of this state and the Midwest. Every exit through the cornfields reveals something new about our great challenge to nourish the world.

Particularly memorable have been the journeys to the World Food Prize festivities, where the annual Borlaug Dialogue celebrates advances and examines setbacks in the global fight against hunger. And there was the reporting trip that took me to a food pantry in a church hall. The food was arranged on shelves, like a grocery store. The signs on the shelves weren’t prices but rather instructions on how many items each food pantry patron could take. I squeezed my eyes tight to hold back tears as a mother and her children discussed their choices.  A loaf of bread or a box of pasta. Peanut butter or jelly. A can of corn or a bag of rice. Such heartbreaking decisions, in the world’s breadbasket.

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Originally published by World Food Price


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