By Judy Allen
When I was young I was reminded meal after meal to finish what was on my plate! After all, there were children in other countries that longed for my fifth bowl of oatmeal that week or liver and onions with a side of spinach. Recently, while speaking with a friend from Mexico, he alluded to the same hearty recommendation from his mother. Certainly many more of us have heard similar around the breakfast or dinner tables, maybe from our own lips to the ears of our children. Does that indicate that the hungry are always someplace else? While standing in the grocery line I overheard a young couple, with a baby, deciding which items to leave behind in order to pay their current heating bill. While I didn’t know their story one thing was clear; they were in need at that moment.
According to Feeding America (Fall/Winter 2014) we need not look across oceans or borders to find the hungry. And though it’s sometimes assumed that poverty and hunger go hand in hand, unemployment is a better predictor of food insecurity. Who are the unemployed? Those with no income who need to feed themselves and others dependant on them. The underemployed are right behind them. Generally speaking, studies indicate the very young, seniors, African Americans and Latinos as those with long term food insecurity, but what about the young Caucasian couple behind me at the grocery store?
The good news is that America has enough food for all of us and concerned individuals are putting their heads together to produce even more, minimize waste and organize better methods of distribution. There are those combating the use of harmful methods of growing and processing and working to put safe, nutritionally sound foods at our fingertips.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines Food Security as, “Access by all people, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life; It is the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods and an ability to acquire this food in socially acceptable ways.”
Back to the couple at the grocery store… As I heard them talking behind me my mind was running through several scenarios. There’s the cynical take, “Maybe they can’t afford food because of the money they spend on entertainment and cell phones and ….” Then the pitiful gouge at the heart, “Maybe they have huge medical bills from having their newborn or she can’t nurse and formula is expensive and they aren’t on WIC yet!” I constructed their story with all the imagination of a playwright but the outcome was always the same. Was I gonna help?
As I reacquaint myself with hunger in America and its advocacy, my research has taken some surprising turns. Well educated families of all ages, ethnic groups and family size, come in and out of the need for food assistance, and some stay in for extended periods of time. It’s possible to have a man with a Master’s degree in the pantry line, a woman with a new baby, or a relocating family. Some come into need due to a change. Maybe even a good one, but for a time it knocks them off their feet. Some believe their circumstances to be short term and are greatly disappointed to see that things did not go as they expected. And yes, we have those that stay in need.
Is it up to us to decide who is in a circumstance that deserves help? Yes, at times, but not every time.
So I discretely paid for the young couple’s groceries. Maybe just for a day or two they regained some hope or maybe they went home and told the family about the sucker in the check-out line; but I doubt it. Hunger is all around us! Step by step we can VANISH it!