Hunger Action Awareness

Hunger Action Awareness

Help with Hunger.

September is HUNGER ACTION AWARENESS month.

When I was in middle school, I relied almost completely on items my friends didn’t want from their lunch boxes, or walking around begging for the change they had left over after they bought their meals. My family was poor and I had access to the free lunch program. It sounds great, who wouldn’t want a free lunch? But, then I saw how mean my classmates were being to one of the other students who received free lunch, and I never used it again. Somehow, they were less mean if I was just begging for their unwanted food items, or change. Although, them being less mean changed, later, and for a while I was called names and excluded from my friend groups. Maybe they were nicer about giving me food initially because they didn’t see it as begging, didn’t see my poorness, and were taught to share with people like them, but when they saw the boy getting free food it was easier to identify him as poor.

You may be surprised or disgusted to hear about people jumping in dumpsters for food, but it is a common practice. Fast forward on my story a bit, when living in Vermont, I was friends with a group who partook in dumpster diving as a way of life. They were poor, but also understood where to access free food headed to the landfill. They fished out and shared with me mounds of chocolate, fresh baked goods, and endless amounts of produce. Is it gross that I would eat food that has already been disposed of? What if it’s not touching anything gross? What if it was then cooked, thus killing any possible bacteria? This leads to the shame in food. If I see someone eating food from a garbage, one instinct is to react with disgust. “How gross that is, how gross that person is,” may be thoughts that run through someone's head. But, the grossness lies in the fact that someone is throwing away perfectly edible food, and that someone is hungry enough to break this taboo, and that this is a taboo in the first place.

I broke the taboo myself, many times. Back when I was younger and working as a dishwasher with little to no money for food, I would eat decent looking half sandwiches or burgers that were cut in half and would be left on tables for garbage.  The management found out and reprimanded me. Now, when I am in a restaurant, I often look around to see what was left on tables by previous customers. Entire meals. But, there are actually laws that say it is illegal to feed someone food from another table. Some of the food laws that are made to keep us safe also promote food waste. Like having to throw away all the food on a buffet at the end of the day. Take a look at the next buffet you attend and consider that everything left at the end of the day will be waste. Also, I will eat food going to waste to prevent all of that energy being expended for nothing. The farmer's' time and energy in planting and harvesting, the shipping of raw ingredients, the energy and time of the laborer preparing a dish, if that dish is prepackaged it is shipped again, then stocked by labor, along with other energies that I am missing. All of that and we can just toss food away like it's nothing. Of course, this is directly related to the privilege of food security, but it somehow goes deeper than just that, and I'm not sure I can name it. If you have any ideas, add them to the comment section.

At a farm on which I worked, we would throw endless produce back into the field if it didn’t look perfect. Why do we need food to look perfect? But, there are some great practices, like culling, that help save some of this food. With volunteers, local food banks can come to a farm after a harvest and pick all the leftover, not “pretty” enough, food. One of the great ways to eliminate waste and redistribute this food is to volunteer with organization that cull. You can find more resources at the end of the article.

On September 1st, I was fortunate to connect with one of my greater communities, Hampton Roads, VA. It was during a volunteer shift at the Food Bank of Southeast Virginia that I came to realize just what some hungry people must do to feed themselves and their families. People were showing up on foot and given a one week supply of food. Impossible to carry by hand. There was a watermelon. That alone weighed about 10 pounds. People were having their children sit on top of groceries in their vehicles because there wasn’t enough room for children and groceries. One man had a bike. we were only able to pack about half the groceries in a way that allowed him to still use the bike, kind of. He rode away from feeling full on some of the coming days of that week.

On that day, we gave out about 35-pound packages of food to over 250 families dealing with food insecurity. The process was shocking because, while I am sure it is necessary, it seemed to take about an hour or more for each person to get through the line, fill out the application, and pick up the food. If any of those individuals had work that day, they would then face the difficult decision of whether a day of wage was worth losing the week of groceries. The food is there, and the people need it, but if they don’t have the time to go through this whole process then they will be missing out. The food bank is operating on volunteer support and cannot be open every day or for long hours, so there is a short window of time ffor people to access their resources. Also, like in the case of the man on the bicycle, or other people walking, they do not have the ability to transport the food home.

I’m not sure there is really an issue with not having enough food in the world to feed everyone. In this article, 6 Reasons Why People Go Hungry, the author states that there is already enough food produced to feed the world 1.5 times. To me, it looks more like accessibility issues. The amount of food waste we see in the U.S. alone is heartbreaking. There is food to feed hungry people, it’s just that the food is in one place, sometimes the garbage or the farm field, and the hungry people are not there to eat it.  If we can get the food that is being wasted into the bellies, or prevent the waste and divert it to the bellies in the first place, we can feed the world.

One of the other way we create waste is our meat addiction. We do not need meat on every plate of food. The amount of crops that go into the feeding of livestock and the calories that we benefit from are, in some cases, greater than a 95% reduction in overall calories. So, if we skip the meat and send a message to the producers we could see more calories going into human bellies.What this means is, if we didn’t rely on beef as a major source of food, we would have 95% more calories from the food they are fed. That looks (roughly) like a choice between 1 pound of hamburger or 20 pounds of wheat. If we didn’t eat beef, we would have 20 times more food.

All of this is to say, people are hungry in the United States, and the rest of the world, and you can help.

Here are some ways in which you can take action:

1. Volunteer – head on over to your local food bank. It’s a great place to start. United Way is also a great resource to find opportunities to help. You can also join or start a Food Not Bombs group. These groups organize receiving free ingredients and creating meals to feed the public.

2. Stop shaming – people are going to find food anyway they can. Respect whatever food choices a person makes, because they may not have a choice. If you have children, teach them compassion, and that poor people are no less deserving of respect.

3. Know your local resources – chances are, if a person is asking you for help, they may already know what is in the area, but if you know where the food shelves and food banks and other resources are, you might help by pointing people in the right direction.

4. Donate - Here is a link to a list with some great charities to which you can donate - https://www.thespruce.com/charities-that-fight-hunger-1666012. You can also go through your own cupboards and find food that isn't being used, give that to the local food shelf or food drive.

5. Stay Accountable - Vow to cut your personal and familial waste. Cut down on your meat consumption. Support small farmers. Buy ugly produce. Invite others to your home for a meal, or make a meal for a family you know is in need.

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