Topoi:1-7 (forthcoming)

David M. Kaplan
University of North Texas
Hunger is both a natural and social phenomenon. On one hand, it is a natural, biological state that affects everyone, everywhere, in every historical time. On the other hand, our perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of hunger are far from uniform. We think about it differently in different contexts and settings depending on its causes and consequences. The same event—the same pangs, emptiness, and lack of energy associated with the desire for food—takes on different meanings depending on who is hungry, when, where, and why. That is to say, it is a matter of interpretation like any other human affair. However, just because it is open to interpretation does not mean that all opinions are equally valid, or that there is nothing objectively true about it. On the contrary, there is a good deal of agreement about what hunger is and where it comes from. Both the biological and socio-economic causes are well-researched, albeit far from settled. Yet, hunger is a surprisingly elastic concept that covers a number of different experiences. Consequently, different practical, moral, and political responses might be appropriate depending on how it’s interpreted. The four main classes of hunger are: involuntary, voluntary, scientific, and political. Each has its particular actors, explanations, and outcomes; each takes place in different social and historical setting; and each has its own solutions beyond simply putting food into empty stomachs. After briefly examining the relevance of hermeneutics for understanding the variety of hungers, this paper will analyze several different forms and changing definitions of it. Although the meaning of hunger may be indeterminate and solutions to it debatable, we can always explain ourselves and understand conflicting interpretations.
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DOI 10.1007/s11245-020-09729-8
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