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Hunger’s New Face

photo(16)I just drove home from Whole Foods with a carefully assembled spinach salad and elderberry kombucha in the co-pilot seat — living the good old suburban work-from-home dream — when an NPR story stopped me in my tracks.  It made me bail on the paid work I was going to do before blogging and scratch the post I had scheduled for today and instead write about food.  Well, actually not about food.  About hunger, or better labeled, food insecurity.

There’s a new documentary out called A Place at the Table (from the same Participant Media/Magnolia Pictures team that created Food, Inc.), and it’s re-invigorating the public dialogue about hunger (disclosure: I haven’t seen the movie yet, so this post is based on some research I quickly did on the issues the NPR story raised).  The new dialogue is far different from what many of us in the U.S. grew up thinking hunger was all about — emaciated kids in some far-off land with glassy eyes and bulging bellies.  It’s about the new face of hunger: people with full bellies who are still hungry…families who are not dealing the issue of not having food, but instead, the reality of the cheapest calories often being the most devoid of nutrients…kids surviving on calorie-dense, but nutritionally empty food in plastic wrappers.

We are talking about a lot of people.  50 MILLION — INCLUDING 1 IN 4 CHILDREN, to be exact (according to the movie’s web page).  That’s 15% of America’s households.  These are people you may even know.  People who are hungry and fat at the same time, so they’re harder to recognize.  Where I live, in Silicon Valley, 10% of the population is served by Second Harvest Food Bank, according to their website.  It’s totally insane that in an area with so much wealth and so much education, we can’t figure out better ways to help our food supply meet everyone’s needs.

Rather than trying distill the issue (mainly the Department of Agriculture’s corn/wheat/rice subsidies + pricing impact, and food deserts, I think) when I’m sure the film does it much more eloquently, I’m going to close this post by bringing it back to you and me…and my carefully assembled spinach salad.  HEALTHY FOOD IS A GIFT.  A PRIVILEGE.  SOMETHING SO MANY PEOPLE WOULD LOVE TO HAVE.  SOMETHING LOTS OF KIDS DON’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT.  So to start,  let’s not waste our energy or our money or our calories on junk food (which coincidentally is like a drug, as Michael Moss’s new book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” and the article he recently wrote for The New York Times Magazine points out). And if you want to do a bit more, here are the three small things I’m vowing to do today:

  • Stay informed.  How have I thought so little about hunger during the last few years that a short NPR piece got me so upset?  It’s easy to lose perspective in our little bubbles, and I’m going to make sure I’m continuing to learn about these issues and their root causes.  This includes seeing this movie ASAP.
  • Buy some meals.  My spinach salad and kombucha at Whole Foods totaled $9.  According to Second Harvest, every $1 donation = 2 healthy meals (and more than half of the food they distribute is fresh produce).  My indulgent lunch could have given 18 people lunch.  I just donated.
  • Practice gratitude.  As I shared in an earlier post, my family says a short “thanks” every night before dinner that is designed to be simple enough for the kids to say it.  We express our thanks for being “safe, warm, fed, and loved.”  I want to teach my children and remind myself every day that we shouldn’t take any of these gifts for granted, and a 1-minute (secular) blessing is one way we fit it in.

Alright, enough ranting for today.  But really, I hope this inspired some thought and maybe even some action.  Juice cleanse this, paleo that…if you are fortunate enough to be able to eat what you want, start there before you fret about the minutia of your diet.  And most importantly, if you’ve seen the movie (spoilers are OK), please share your thoughts.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Es #

    Have you seen PBS’s Frontline’s documentary about poverty through the eyes of children? Very powerful and it touches on some of this.

    March 15, 2013
  2. Thanks for the rec, Es. I’ll check it out. I can’t let go of the idea that 25% of children are hungry.

    March 15, 2013
    • That really is a startling statistic. Thanks for this post — I often think about food about how it may very well be one of the biggest emotional/psychological factors in our lives (whether we count calories, chide ourselves (okay, me) for not cooking well or enough, eat obsessively organic, or volunteer at a soup kitchen). I know my husband feels guilt about leaving food uneaten (this is something passed down from his grandmother who narrowly survived the Holocaust), and I feel a different guilt about buying most of our food from Whole Foods, which seems so indulgent when there are literally millions subsisting on white bread.

      March 15, 2013
  3. Erin Montagne #

    Esther, that PBS Frontline is very similar to A Place at the Table in terms of highlighting the issue of hunger in America and looking at it through the lens of people living it everyday. I walked out of A Place at the Table feeling like I wanted to take action, but I am still not quite sure what that will look like.
    One thing that really struck me is the concept of food deserts…Will Allen of Milwaukee’s Growing Power has an awesome model of educating people on how to grow fresh produce and create sustainable solutions in the communities that they reside in. I love his inspiration!

    March 15, 2013

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