George Stroumboulopoulos goes the full Angelina, named World Food Programme ambassador

George Stroumboulopoulos goes the full Angelina, named World Food Programme ambassador

Stephen Lewis, George Stroumboulopoulos and WFP spokesperson Bettina Luescher at last night’s announcement (Image: John Michael McGrath) 

The World Food Programme—an enormous international aid program that feeds 90 million people a year—has named George Stroumboulopoulos as its first Canadian Ambassador Against Hunger, putting the former MuchMusic VJ on the same list as people such as Sean Connery, Drew Barrymore and Penélope Cruz. The CBC also announced after the taping of his show last night that there will be an April 1 special about Stroumboulopoulos’s recent travel to Pakistan, where the CBC host toured the WFP sites and saw the devastation that remains after last year’s floods.

George Stroumboulopoulos in Pakistan on February 26, 2011 (Image: Courtesy of CBC)  

Joined by WFP spokesperson Bettina Luescher and Canadian go-to humanitarian Stephen Lewis, Stroumboulopoulos said he’s looking forward to working with the WFP and other aid partners, despite the enormity of the problem. “I’m a disciple of the church of Bruce Cockburn: you gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight,” he said, showing that while it’s possible to take the man out of Canada, you can’t take Canada out of the man.

During his appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Lewis said that too often celebrity ambassadors end up drawing attention to themselves, rather than to the issue. He had particularly harsh words for Sir Bob Geldof, but had nothing but praise for Strombo: “You can tell he’s a passionate, articulate advocate. George is not self-indulgent, and we love him for that. Even my wife loves him for that, and Michelle is an extremely critical feminist.”

At least as important as their direct actions, Lewis says one of the key things celebrity ambassadors do when they work well is maintain pressure on governments to keep their funding for things like the WFP—something that’s harder to do during global recessions that hit the poor hardest.

Doing a 30-minute special on Pakistan is one thing, but these days, the real issue with global hunger is wild price spikes—both in 2008 and over the past year. Natural disasters are “easy” for TV to tell a story about, but the effects of price speculation and global commodity markets are harder to make sexy for a TV audience.

Stroumboulopoulos says, “I don’t have the solution, but one of the things is to just introduce the subject to people and sustain it, make sure it stays part of the consciousness.” When food prices are part of the shocks that are bringing down governments like Egypt’s, Stroumboulopoulos says, “we just have to tell those stories.”