A woman and I were discussing what the song was about. I thought it was about the being poor and wealthy. She said it had more simply to do with being hungry. Having re-read the lyrics, I am now more inclined to agree with her. Except for the one line that confuses me, "I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled." I interpret this as, "I am now wealthy, but I won't step on people to for my wealth." Is this a fair interpretation? Anyone have any others? Or an outright explanation of the song?
The song clearly is not just about being literally hungry --not with ample sociopolitical imagery such as "farming babies, while the slaves are all working." But while it may present as an abstract statement about wealth and poverty, a little research reveals a more personal meaning:
"Hunger Strike" came about because of an existential crisis that Soundgarden faced at that moment. We were sort of the first band [from Seattle] that had attention from labels in a meaningful way. There was a bidding war, which was unusual for any band from Seattle. We were living our dream, but there was also this mistrust over what that meant. Does this make us a commercial rock band? Does it change our motivation when we're writing a song and making a record? "Hunger Strike" is a statement that I'm staying true to what I'm doing regardless of what comes of it, but I will never change what I'm doing for the purposes of success or money. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/temple-of-the-dog-an-oral-history-w442502
In other words, does the band take a big contract from a commercial label ("bread from the mouths of decadence") and does that imply selling out, maybe even becoming party to exploitation ("I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled")? It's all a bit overdramatic, but it comes out of a time and place in music where authenticity was prized above all else, and where the prospect of mainstream success raised powerfully ambivalent feelings among formerly "indie" groups that weren't sure they wanted it. The title of the song announces his intentions to turn down his shot at wealth and fame. Perhaps he would have been happier if he had stuck with that original commitment.