Oh man. It's impossible to write about just food today. To describe my recent attempts at gluten-free baguette-making, or wax ecstatic about the bacon scones I made for breakfast yesterday, or even to tell you about the dessert I have planned for an upcoming dinner party, simply feels too trivial, too frivolous. Because I (along with who-knows-how-many thousands of others, you included probably) read Shauna's post yesterday, and can't get it off my mind.
If you haven't read it, I highly encourage you to head over to Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef right now. She writes about important stuff, that lady.
This most recent post of hers, plus her post on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and another a while back, about trying to feed her family on $18 a day (which is the equivalent of the maximum food assistance available to a family of three in Washington state), have had me thinking so much about food, and what it means, and how all of her essays are linked by politics and culture and economy, and how it all keeps coming back to hunger. Food, which can bring us such primal pleasure, can also cause us so many problems. Not enough of the good stuff. Too much of the bad stuff. Conflicting information about what is and what isn't good for us. Contaminants, chemicals, pesticides, artificial hormones . . . And then there is all the emotional baggage we bring to the table. Food is rarely simply food.
Bear with me now as I take you through the rambling progression of thoughts Shauna's words sent racing through my head this week (and please forgive me, as this might look rant-ish): There are people who genuinely need assistance in getting enough to eat, and our nation is lucky to have a government that provides it to them. But, curiously, the maximum dollar amount provided is so much more than what we spend, per person, to feed our own family, and we feel that we eat pretty good! What's the catch? We cook nearly everything from scratch. It's our training, it's our philosophy, it's our way of life. And we believe it's healthier and more economical than buying prepackaged, processed foods. But since most of America doesn't eat the way we do, the government ends up subsidizing more expensive diets consisting of processed convenience foods. Which, while it helps alleviate the body's hunger for calories, does nothing to address its hunger for real, wholesome (and whole!) foods that provide a wide variety of nutrients. And so our country is still hungry. Fast-forward to the Food Revolution, and we see how the public school system has continued this policy of favoring calories over quality, thus filling our children out without truly filling them up. These children still look hungry to me. Hungry for foods that enrich them, that honor their bodies and minds and allow them to tackle the world with the natural fervor and excitement that all children are born with. And finally, with Shauna's most recent honest, raw look at the role food has been playing in her own private life over the past year, we see another side of hunger. One which has less to do with money and nutrition, and more to do with emotions and the singular act of living a full, complex life, of always giving to others, and the realization that it has meant neglecting oneself. More proof that carrying excess weight does not mean that one's hunger needs have been met. (Whew. I did warn you!)
I've got lots more thoughts swirling in my head, jostling each other for space and time. But the one that I keep coming back to, the one that ties all the rest together? I don't like hunger. I don't like it on any level. I don't like the nagging little kind you get when you've been so busy all day that you've only grabbed bites here and there, never enough to really satiate. I don't like the low-blood-sugar kind that's so prevalent when traveling, when finding "safe" gluten-free foods can be so hard. But that's not what I mean.
I can't bear to see or think about hungry children. I'm not talking about the ones who whine that they want crackers ten minutes before dinner is served. I mean children who are truly hungry, who won't be getting a decent meal today or anytime soon. This breaks my heart. No one, and I mean no one, should have to go without enough to eat, or have to settle for unnutritious food. But most of all, children - those who need healthy food the most, yet have the least control over their access to it - absolutely should not have to suffer from poor nutrition. Especially not when we know how important it is to their overall health, development, and future well-being.
I realize that I am saying nothing original here; I am not crafting a new platform. I am merely jumping on an already-fast-moving bandwagon, and joining a movement that counts among its active members people at the top of the Obama administration right on down to individuals working directly with their local communities all over the country.
This doesn't lessen the importance of talking about it, of keeping it alive in people's minds. And it certainly doesn't mean that there are already enough people working on the problem. On the contrary, I would argue that that's why we still have child hunger in this country - because not enough people are working to end it. It has been estimated that there are 17 million children in America who struggle with hunger. That number is gut-wrenching. It boggles my mind. Clearly no one person (or even organization) can fix the problem; it is something we all have to share responsibility for.
So I ask you: does your family have enough to eat? Yes? Wonderful. I am so happy and relieved for you. You deserve it. And now I challenge you: pay it forward. Find a way - a way that fits into your budget and beliefs and busy life - and give back. Donate, advocate, volunteer, talk about the issue with your friends, whatever feels right to you. Get involved and fight child hunger. Because none of us is removed, separate from the children of this nation; we all have a stake in their health and vitality. So do something, even if it's just being aware and supportive of where some of your tax dollars go.
And know that my family will be right there with you, doing what we can in our own way.
Pay it forward. It's all I ask.