Rice for Peace: Origin of the Idea in 1954
In the fall of 1954 the Fellowship of Reconciliation launched the “Surplus-Food-for-China” Campaign, hoping to influence the United States government to send food relief to famine-stricken China.
China had suffered a disastrous flood, leaving millions homeless and millions more facing death by starvation. At this same time, the United States had the largest surplus of food in its history, purchased by the government to support farm prices. Granaries, ships, garages, and airplane hangars were crammed with America’s surplus food.
The campaign focused primarily on sending tiny grain-bags to the president. Each bag had a label addressed to President Eisenhower, while on the white cloth of the bag was printed “If Thine Enemy Hunger, Feed Him — Send Surplus Food to China.” The FOR made these grain bags available to people across the country, who were urged to fill them with rice or other grain and mail them to the White House.
The idea of the campaign caught the attention of groups all across the country. Women started a petition to collect a million signatures urging the President to send a “love gift” of food to hungry Chinese children. The January 1955 issue of Fellowship magazine reported, “the idea had struck a responsive chord in many Americans’ hearts. Ministers, editors of religious publications, Sunday schools, and other church groups joined individuals writing of their enthusiasm and support for this expression of the Christian way of dealing with those who have been labeled ‘enemy’.” The New York Times ran almost a full-column article about the campaign, with a photograph of the grain bag. The European press also carried the story.
By October 1955 Fellowship magazine reported the Food-for-China campaign seemed to have run its course, while an offer by the US to send food to China was never made. The campaign initially appeared to be a failure even though it amassed enthusiastic participation from thousands of Americans. The FOR national office sent out over 40,000 grain-bags with reports from Washington indicating that most of them appeared at the White House, together with numerous other letters and petitions. It is possible however, that the “Food-for-China” campaign did have a political impact.
Source: Excerpt from Fellowship of Reconciliation USA Archives
Working for peace, justice and nonviolence since 1915 http://archives.forusa.org/programs/riceforpeace/foodforchina.html