Feed a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.
"Hunger and malnutrition can never be considered a normal occurrence that we should be become used to, as if it were part of the system. Something must change in ourselves, in our minds, in our societies."It is truly an honor for me to participate in the Butterfly Woman Blogathon for Food Justice. Have you read all of the incredible posts in this series, by some of the best writers and advocates imaginable? I'm going to catch up and I understand, everyone's busy, and there's just not enough time to do all we want to do, for most of us, but this is a series worth your time. You'll never be sorry that you have read the phenomenal contributions by Daily Kos diarists and some rather extraordinary (and at least one Honorary) guest posters.
—Pope Francis, in a World Food Day message to the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Food justice, as you know, is not an issue we can remain passive about. That's the insidious nature of hunger in America. If you haven't known it, someone you know and care about has.
I'm reminded of a song written by Bruce Springsteen, We Take Care Of Our Own. You remember this, don't you? I heard it just after Hurricane Sandy, but I remember, because these words are relevant to just about every problem in the human condition.
Do we take care of our own? If we don't, who will? Before we examine some ways to address the issue of food justice, I'll tell you what "our own" means to me, and I hope that you'll add your definitions in the comments.
I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper. These exact words are what I grew up believing, and have never had a reason to doubt. You don't have to go to church, and you don't have to like my "messenger," President Obama. It's very simple: If you're hurting, then I hurt for you. And let's face it, there are more people hurting and hungry today than I can even believe when I look at the data.
Roughly 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The Great Recession and its aftermath have provided us with a lot of numbers, and none of them are encouraging.
- 63.2 percent of people in the U.S. have a job or are actively seeking work -- the lowest labor force percentage since 1978.
- 10 percent was the peak unemployment rate in October 2009, and dropped to 7.6 percent as of May 2013. Today there are three unemployed people (PDF) for every job opening.
- 47 million Americans have depended on SNAP (PDF) to put food on the table as of February 2013, compared to just over 26 million in December of 2006 before the recession began (Dec. 2007).
- 15 percent of the population was living below the poverty line (PDF) in 2011 and 34.4 percent were considered poor or near poor (living below 200 percent of the poverty line). Pre-recession, the poverty rate was 13 percent (2007).
- $14,500 is what a person working full-time at the minimum wage earns per year. The official poverty line for a family of three—one parent with two children—is $17,568 and most families need to make twice that to afford basic needs.
It's overwhelming to look at these numbers. I know it is. It can make you feel helpless, and the problem seems insurmountable, too big for any one of us to solve. There are many, many contributing causes to the dismal statistics above. You and I can't resolve the problem on our own, but we can damn sure help, each to the extent of our abilities. Everyone who helps, even a little bit, makes a difference.
If a child goes to bed not hungry because of your efforts, then you're helping. If you have a few dollars to contribute to the underserved communities we're working to help through the Butterfly Woman Food Justice Project, many thanks to you. If a homeless individual had something to eat today, because you decided to give and not turn away or judge like some Republicans love to do, you're helping. And all these seemingly little acts of human decency (they're not little) are multiplied across the nation and they make a real difference.
Let me ask you this: If we don't, who will? You and I have got to be the change.
I could ask you if you believe some agency will fix this, or churches or charitable organizations are going to fix it, but no, I won't. You all know, as well as I do or better, not to depend on bureaucracies or the fickle kindness of strangers, right? If they do help, even a little bit, then that's great. Anything helps. But when it's you and me with a handful of nothin', we're our own agency. We've read The Shock Doctrine. Hell, we've lived it. You can't live on what might be when you need help right now.
Here are some easy ways to get started on "that whole being the change thing," and since you're reading this, I'll bet you're a Dem or an Independent and have some social conscience, so you may be doing all these things already.
Share the Table
Studies show that family mealtime makes kids happier and healthier and fosters family bonding. Nourish your family by committing to eat at least five meals together a week. Turn off the TV (and the XBox and PlayStation). We don't have a lot of rules at my house, but we do have four generations at the dinner table, and at least one or two guests, every night.
Dinner is eaten at the table, and it lasts for an hour (I'd like two, so I can catch up with everyone, but I'll settle for one), and please do not bring your phone, your tablet or your doll to the table. “Food should be shared with people that we are connected to,” says Bryant Terry. Why is this important? It's a way to nourish your family both physically and spiritually. It may be the only time you're all together in the same place every day.
We all know people who are struggling. Maybe we don't know exactly how things are for them, but your coworker who was laid off, your former neighbor who was foreclosed, the friend who needs more than WIC or SNAP to help? Most students I've known are poor and living on Ramen noodles. Share the table. Invite them to dinner. If they say no, there are ways to help with respect and dignity. You can offer to bring over a plate on your way to somewhere (just drop it off and don't hang around while they feel pressured to tell you what they don't want to say.) Just make 'em a plate (a "plate" has enough for dinner and lunch the next day) and drop it off without any well-meaning words that might be heard as a "sermon" to someone down on their luck.
Paying It Forward
You know how some people (rolling eyes) won't stop the car or will walk on by when someone is asking for help, or has a Work For Food sign? The reason, they swear and avow, is something like: "How do I know they'll use it for food? They probably want some meth, or a bottle." And my response to that is who asked you? We know there are a multitude of unemployed and disabled individuals, many elderly, many children, and there are the working poor (many of whom have families). I'm not going to go there, starting a question-asking party with someone in need (who owes me nothing), or making harsh, imaginary judgments. Too many do this. Not just Republicans, but a helluva lot of 'em, putting the "me" before the "we" and like Sweetie said, ain't nobody got time for that.
If you can buy five or six chicken dinners or box lunches on payday, and hand them out to anyone who's asking and just skip the moral judgment (which doesn't help anyone), you're making a difference. What I have found is if you stay away from the big chain corporations and buy local (sorry, Colonel) the very nice vendors will give you half price or not charge a penny, because they know you'll come back with your family and they appreciate your business. Leave them a tip if they are gracious enough to give you a discount or actual free food. ("We throw away so food much every night" is what I have heard over and over again.) If you can get your church behind this, or your parent-teacher group? It adds up, big time. If you can raise $100 or $300 for hungry people in your community, you're making a difference and I salute you.
Your Own Food Network
Forget Paula Deen's. You can join a local food network that inspires you and meet others who care about strengthening the local food system. Research good food spots in your area -- family farms, farmers markets, locally owned restaurants, food artisans—and encourage people to support them. Create an online map or website to share information within your community. If your community doesn’t have a farmers market, why not look into a committee to start one?
Meet Your Farmer
Support local farmers and food producers by buying direct through a CSA or farmers market. Talking with the people who grow your food is quite an experience. When you go to a farmers market, ask farmers where they’re located, what’s in season, how long they’ve been farming, and what methods they use. Visit a farm to see where and how your food is grown.
Farms To Schools
Farm to school programs get healthy, local food into cafeterias, support regional farmers and economies, and help connect young people to the land. If you’re an educator or administrator, organize a farm field trip so that your students can see the source of their food firsthand.
Why is this important? Your children are never too young to help, unless they're infants or toddlers. A 4-year-old can set the table today and that child can grow up with the next generation, who will make hunger a thing of the past. Don't believe me? It's already happening in India (hat tip to Horace Boothroyd III).
Our friends in India constantly amaze me with their intelligence and resource-focused solutions to a variety of situations, especially this one:
What can however, be stated that, that state's obligation towards food and nutritional security is now a legal right.Making A Difference
We consider that everyone has a fundamental right to be free from hunger and undernutrition. Realising this right requires not only equitable and sustainable food systems, but also entitlements relating to livelihood security such as the right to work, land reform and social security. We consider that the primary responsibility for guaranteeing these entitlements rests with the state. Lack of financial resources cannot be accepted as an excuse for abdicating this responsibility. In the present context, where people's basic needs are not a political priority, state intervention itself depends on effective popular organisation. We are committed to fostering this process through all democratic means.
Do you shop at a coop, or farm stand? Do you have an hour to volunteer, at one of the two or at a soup kitchen or Meals On Wheels? This is a way to make healthy food more available and affordable to your community. You can increase your impact by urging your friends, coworkers, faith group, or student organization to volunteer. You’ll meet others who care about making a difference in their community—and you’ll have fun, too.
Remember the outrage during the Teapublican shutdown about WIC and moms not having formula for their babies? Obscene. Shameful. Well, I decided that I could forego my afternoon Starbucks jones because $4.50 for a chai frappuccino adds up to $22.50 in five days. That's a case of Similac. My aunt decided she'd do the same, and a couple of coworkers did as well. Now we're up to eight cases of formula every Friday, and I'm here to tell you, dropping off that formula feels sweeter than anything at Starbucks tastes.
If you've have read Patriot Daily's beautiful post, Healthy Food Is A Human Right (and if you haven't, you're missing something extraordinary), you know that:
Our focus in this blogathon for Food Justice is the On October 23-24, we're focusing our blogging specifically on underserved populations, including those in communities of color, and on local community programs designed to help provide nutritious food raised in sustainable ways.Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, we can hear her breathing. -- Arundhati Roy
Our effort this year is named in honor of Aji's late sister:The causes that mattered to her were the essential things, even if they were not the things that garnered headlines: causes like making sure that no child goes hungry.
We are FUNDRAISING for these projects:
- Growing Power, Inc. (info link) ~~~ DONATE LINK
- White Earth Land Recovery Project (info link) ~~~ DONATE LINK
- People's Grocery (info link) ~~~ DONATE LINK
For more detail and guest biographies, see Aji's opening diary. To stream all blogathon diaries, follow the Hunger in America group. Your diary recs, republishes, and social media shares help us, whether you have cash to spare or not! Twitter hashtags: #foodjustice and #hunger.