Review: HungerWeb

(published in College and Research Libraries News, September 1994)

HungerWeb ( is one of a small number of issue-focused web resources whose main purpose is to raise the consciousness of those who browse the site. World hunger is the issue, and exhortation is a principal tool:

There are many moral responsibilities and economic concerns that make ending hunger an unavoidable imperative: the human and social consequences of hunger are unbearable, and the economic cost of allowing hunger to persist is genocidal, if not suicidal... We can not avert our eyes nor deny our responsibilities -- responsibilities in the name of humanity, and responsibilities in our best interest. (from "The Facts About Hunger" on the main page)
The site is praiseworthy for trying to gather relevant documents and links to inform and galvanize its audience to response, but there is some question as to who the intended audience is, and what they should do once consciousness is raised. The level of discourse in the introductory material seems appropriate to high school or perhaps college freshman audiences, and at present the links are not data-rich enough to be useful to more sophisticated browsers.

WWW interfaces (Mosaic, lynx, etc.) encourage a bulletized mode of communication that is simplified and often superficial; when the sentence or paragraph contains a link to more detailed material, the browser has the opportunity to explore further. HungerWeb's linked texts examine National Security, the Environment, War, the Bible, Population, and Poverty in the USA as facets of hunger, and each of these topics presents an argument with supporting data. At their best they provide useful summaries of hunger issues, but sometimes the text seems naive -- the intentions are surely of the best, but the facts are questionable:

Hungry people will do almost anything to feed themselves, including taking up arms in Third World conflicts. It is these conflicts which are most likely to lead to full-scale Nuclear War according to experts including the Center for Defense Information. (from the "Hunger and National Security" text)
Links to "Extensive Hunger Resources" include a wide range of governmental and non-governmental gophers and web sites, many of which have excellent and highly relevant information, though it is often deeply buried. The browser needs guidance in these resources, and the WWW medium offers the opportunity to provide explanatory context for them by means of links to specific parts of documents, but little along these lines has yet been done by the maintainers of HungerWeb. Guidance through the jungles of literature about hunger (in the form of annotated bibliographies and commentary on issues like the politics of charity) would be valuable additions as the site grows.

In the Mosaic version of HungerWeb the images take up a great deal of space and transmission time, but few are really informative. They create an ambience, but their message is more often generalized guilt (a starving child) or ambiguous allusion (Picasso's Guernica, the Statue of Liberty) than useful data or trenchant summary.