As I recently sat through the documentary, “A Place at the Table,” shown at a nearby college campus, the simple meatloaf and baked potato I had eaten for dinner seemed like a gourmet meal. With a full stomach I listened to mothers who routinely skipped meals so their children could eat.
One woman living in inner city Philadelphia had to ride a bus an hour each way in order to shop at a full-service grocery store, otherwise her only choice was a 7-Eleven whose only protein amounted to hot dogs spinning on a carousel and the only fresh produce was bananas. Adding to her burden was lugging the groceries home from the bus stop, plastic bags straining and the handles cutting into her hands.
Focusing on hunger is often done at this time of year. The Boy Scouts in my city recently fanned out in their annual collection of canned tuna, cereal and boxes of pasta for the food bank. At the same time many of us are planning the menu for our Thanksgiving feasts, more likely than not boasting both turkey and ham, both mashed potatoes and yams—a mountain of food at one sitting that the needy could stretch into a week of meals.
Hunger in the world’s richest country has also been in the news recently with the cut in federal food stamp funding, reverting it back to funding levels that existed prior to the Great Recession. And more cuts seem likely for the nearly 50 million Americans who rely on the program.
More than once I’ve heard the complaints of folks who say they’ve stood in grocery store lines behind those with vouchers. “They were buying steaks and all kinds of stuff that I couldn’t afford,” they will sniff, often followed by a dig that “people just need to get a job.” According to “A Place at the Table,” three-quarters of households receiving assistance have at least one person who is employed.
Recently as I watched the conveyor belt move my groceries, the cashier I generally discuss the weather with, said there was a time when she believed those on food stamp were scammers and takers and that food banks were only rewarding bad behavior. “Then I volunteered with my church at a food bank,” she said, and actually learned about people’s situation. “I see people in military clothes coming through my line who are on food stamps. There’s a problem if our service people aren’t earning enough so they can eat.”
“A Place at the Table” talked about the importance of good nutrition in the first years of life. One woman had a child with health issues who was also learning disabled, likely tied to not having enough of the proper foods. The documentary pointed to large government subsidies going to big-business farms that mostly grow corn and soybeans, ingredients used in junk foods, while family-operated orchards and truck farms are totally on their own, forcing a higher price at the market for the good foods.
Not much optimism filled the documentary — there was mention about the up-tick in the number of food banks being established, but wouldn’t it be better if there were less need for them? That people could earn enough to take care of the grocery bills? That farmers could earn a decent living and also feed people good food at a reasonable cost?
Many will say prayers of gratitude as they sit around the Thanksgiving table, they may also ask for divine intervention so the hungry will be fed, but as nationally known pastor Rob Bell says, prayer can be empty words if the person doesn’t also follow through with personal action. Pray for the hungry, but also make a contribution to the food bank, or volunteer. Better yet, hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire so that ending hunger receives the attention it deserves.
— Nancy Luse writes from