Yesterday, as Oliver thrilled in the sugary, chocolaty concoction that was his perfectly rendered eclair, I watched him with joy. I loved buying this treat for him; his happiness erased any hesitations I may have had about the $5 price tag on this artisanal, for-no-reason, mid-morning snack. We sat on the ground, in the sun, his little body nestled in the crook of my crossed legs, my arms around him, my fingers catching any stray chocolate pudding so that he wouldn't have to miss a bite. This morning, Jack asked for a toasted bagel with sour cherry jam; Oliver preferred oatmeal with blueberries and brown sugar. Tom ground and brewed fresh coffee; he and I ate bowls of different cereals. Mine was topped with almond milk, his with that from a good old cow. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction as I looked around at my family, all healthy, all able to eat until they were full and sated, no one left without in any way.
While I feel a tremendous sense of pride in my children's varied and adventurous palates and gratefulness that I can offer them meal-time choices to appease their culinary desires, I also feel very acutely that "wow, this is only possible because T has a good job and we are fortunate enough to never worry about whether or not we'll have food." Such is not nearly the case for too many of our fellow Americans, and this is a heart-wrenching travesty with serious ramifications.
According to Feeding America, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty in 2011. In America, per the Department of Health and Human Services, a family of four falls below the poverty line if their total household income (annual) falls below $23,550. That's $5,887 per person per year, or $16 per person per day. This meager amount must cover food, shelter, clothing, education, school/work supplies, transportation, living expenses and so forth.
Also during 2011, according to Feeding America, 50.1 million lived in food-insecure homes; 16.7 million of those were children. The USDA defines food insecurity as meaning “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”
Though related, food insecurity and poverty are different issues, affecting different populations (socio-economic, geographic, racial, age) differently. For example, although the national food insecurity rate is 14.7%, 19.2% of Mississippi families are food insecure. Again in contrast to the national food insecurity rate of 14.7%, an enormous 36.8% of homes with children headed by single women were food insecure during 2011.
As a mother for whom my children's health is paramount, I feel sickened to my core when I think what it must be like for moms who have to watch their children suffer the pangs of hunger, who have to tell their kids that she's sorry but there's just not anything for breakfast today. The stress of that would be crushing for me, and it would be compounded by the fact that I'd know just how detrimental inadequate nutrition is for a growing body and a developing mind.
When my boys are hungry, they are less able to concentrate, less able to handle frustration and challenge. They're more susceptible to tears and/or anger being the response to difficulty of any sort. When I watch them devour breakfast each morning, as if they haven't eaten for days, I know that that healthy, hearty intake will sustain them through the early hours of school and recess, until snack-time comes and refuels them. But what if instead of that, there was nothing? What if the growls in their bellies had to be ignored? What if their next meal was unknown and that very thought prevented them from focusing on play, social interactions, learning?
You read about these horrifying statistics and then you read about how much food Americans waste every day, month and year: 33 million tons (40%) of food each year according to the National Resources Defense Council and Ira Flatow of NPR. This interview transcript about food waste in the US is beyond sobering, and the disconnect it illuminates -between hunger and waste- is heartbreaking. Surely we as a nation can do better.
So today, on behalf of Food Bloggers Against Hunger, consider what it'd be like to have just $4 a day to feed yourself and your family. What sorts of food can such a minuscule amount buy? Mostly empty calories with no real nutritional benefit unless you really shop with effort and an eye towards bargains and creative cooking. There's certainly no room for treats like that I could give Oliver yesterday. That would never include options at breakfast because it may not be enough for breakfast at all. Today, consider just how little some have, how close to the edge of extreme hunger many live. Consider taking some action, no matter how small: sign a petition, watch A Place at the Table, call your representatives, speak out against the current Farm Bill which makes corn syrup cheaper to buy than an apple.
Here's another petition, from No Kid Hungry. Signing only takes a second!