Tuesday, October 16, 2007

13 million reasons

I've written a review over at my other blog today about a new cookbook. I really enjoyed the book but the post here is more about the way it made me feel to have the luxury of being able to use it.

The book is all about pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into your kids' food. So as I am preparing to give it a test drive, shopping for fresh ingredients, firing up the blender, roasting the veggies I couldn't stop thinking about how lucky I was to be able to do it at all. I thought about all the moms at the shelter, moms who love their kids just as much but are unable to cook for their kids so instead they are forced to feed their kids food that is prepared or donated to them and that food is often starchy and processed and the veggies at best are often canned.

So I took my concerns to my work and I talked to a couple of moms about the book and about how they provide healthy food for their kids. The women I talked to were both defeated, they knew they could never make the recipes I described in their current situation, not only because of the lack of food choices but also because the supplies needed, the blender or processor were far out of reach. They clearly would love to be able to better feed their kids and saw it as one more thing that suffered at the hands of poverty and homelessness. They saw the wisdom in the book and yet had no practical way to utilize it.

And it's not fair. It's not fair that I can puree while others can't. That I can buy what I want for my child while others can only stand in the aisles and look. And the advantages that must offer kids like M must be extraordinary, and that isn't fair either. We should all have access to healthy food for our kids.

It's impossible to reject everything in our society that can't be shared by everyone. It's difficult and unfair to your own child to stand in poverty because I have the resources to give her what she needs. But it's still not fair that M gets pureed cauliflower snuck into wheat flour based banana bread while other kids eat day old white bread and canned generic peas and some kids eat very little overall. If you haven't looked in the eyes of a hungry child and then watched the way they eat too fast and hoard their food then you are fortunate indeed because it will break your heart right in two. And it happens in America every single day. And that's just America.

A look at the United States reveals a wide gap between the goal of universal access to adequate nutrition, and the reality of hunger that plagues millions in this country alone. The number of hungry people in the United States is greater now than it was when international leaders set hunger-cutting goals at the 1996 World Food Summit. The pledges by United States government leaders to cut the number of Americans living in hunger-from 30.4 million to 15.2 million by 2010- are lagging behind. An estimated 35 million Americans are food insecure with food insecurity and the necessity of food stamps being experienced by at least 4 in 10 Americans between the ages of 20 and 65. That's 50% of Americans!

Meanwhile, the already burdened food safety-net program which was designed to alleviate hunger and food insecurity is under attack by the threat of reduction of funding and ease of enrollment by policy makers. With food expenses being the most elastic part of a family's budget, as limited funds usually get allocated to fixed payments first, such as rent and utilities, food purchasing has become the most compromised portion of the average family's budget. So far in 2004, 35% of Americans have had to choose between food and rent, while 28% had to choose between medical care and food. While others, forced to stretch their budgets further and further, are buying less expensive but often less nutritious food.


The most vulnerable - the children, immigrants, rural families - are worst affected by this epidemic. Despite evidence that hunger causes chronic disease development and impaired psychological and cognitive functioning in children, an estimated 13 million children are living in households that are forced to skip meals or eat less due to economic constraints. The worst affected are children of 6 million of America's undocumented immigrants: on a daily basis they go without such necessities as milk and meat. (Excerpted from Hunger in America by Anuradha Mittal)

So I will wrestle with this just as I wrestle with so many other poverty related issues because I continue to believe we can do more to be more equitable, that hungry children should be a problem for all of us and that I will not feel full while others are still hungry. And I will continue to join others as they stand against poverty too.

41 comments:

Casdok said...

Yes we can do more.

Anna said...

Oh my heart aches. What a sad issue we face and yes, we can do more.

Thank you.

Family Adventure said...

Yes, I agree, America needs to do more. Has to do more, before it is too late. There's been a lot of talk of protecting the environment, and that is equally as important, but it is an outrage that one of the richest countries in the world allows so many children to go hungry. So many people to go hungry. It can do more.
There are so many places in the world where hunger is epidemic, where the resources are just not there, but at least in the US the resources ARE there. And yet, children still go hungry.

You are making a difference. Please keep feeling and communicating those feelings here and elsewhere.

Oh Jen, you hit on so many issues here, that a silly little comment is not enough of a response. I wish I could sit down and talk to you.

- Heidi

Blog Antagonist said...

It's shameful that children in this country go hungry. I think about this almost every time I go to the grocery store. We've got to do better.

cce said...

I just read about that cookbook in the NYT's article on the epidemic of children's finickiness when it comes to food. The article didn't mention poverty or just how much these undernourished children would love to have the choices that the finicky children reject every day. Thanks for making this point.

Susanne said...

I know better but still I often forget that there are people going hungry in countries like your or mine too. It is indeed herat-breaking. Thank you for reminding us.

alejna said...

You're so right. Hungry children should be a problem for all of us.

I know that when I eat better, fresher food, my energy and performance improve, and that when I eat poorly, my health and achievements suffer. And when I eat "poorly", I'm expect I'm still eating better than people who struggle to get even enough food. I hadn't even thought about this type of disadvantage, and how it must affect children.

It's an outrage that so many children in this country are not getting adequate nutrition in a land where food is abundant.

We do need to more. We can do better. I guess we need to figure out how, and what we (as individuals, and as a community) can do. Any suggestions?

Her Grace said...

When I was teaching, I knew that the breakfast and snack I was feeding the kids (from the school cafeteria) was sometimes the best meal they'd have all day. It was loaded with too much fat, sugar, and processed flour, and too few fruits and vegetables.

Everyone should have access to basic, healthy nutrition.

Mrs. Chicken said...

We saw child hunger all the time when my husband taught school in an urban district. Elementary school kids would take half-eaten - and awful - school lunches home in their pockets for dinner.

I know exactly what you are talking about here.

Our local food back is having a fund drive - I am writing about it tomorrow. If you don't mind, I may swipe some of this to include in my post.

Jen, as always, I cannot say this enough. I do not know how you do it. Your soul must be enormous.

acumamakiki said...

i was thinking about this the other day, as i was trying to find a subject for the self portrait challenge this month, food and me. standing in front of our well-stocked fridge, watching my girl stand in front of the doors, deciding what to have for a snack...we are so very fortunate.

PunditMom said...

I was reading a review of that book in the Washington Post today, and I was thinking the same thing. I've tried to explain to PunditGirl that there are families who don't have the choices we do -- including our choices about food. At seven, she can't comprehend that such a world is possible.

b*babbler said...

A reminder to us all. There is truly no excuse, in countries as rich as ours, that any man, woman, or child should go hungry.

crazymumma said...

And yet obesity is on the rise.

Such a disparity between polar opposites.

Catherine said...

BRAVO! Yes, so well done, well said. I was just wrestling with this last night, actually. Its so easy to think we live "normally" and not realize that having to concerns about nutrition means we are the wealthiest of the wealthy...
catherine

The Expatriate Chef said...

Oh, hot button. First, I have this wonderful dream of one of those "Super Supper" places, but associated with the food stamp program where the bulk purchase would allow busy working moms to come in and prepare healthy meals for families for the week. The kids could be fed and entertained (or cooking, too and learning about nutrition) in a room adjacent while the moms cook. It could work. Need funding and support, but it is a valid idea whose time has come.

This is also a reason why we all as parents must address the quality of the school lunch. For many kids at the poverty level, these meals are the most nutritious one they get all day. Even us parents with options to send a healthy brown bag should get involved to improve the quality for all kids. We have the luxury of time to get involved and promote changes that benefit everyone.

Next, the puree thing bugs me. You are starting young, easy to get the veggies in as veggies and teach a lifetime love of them. I guess as a mom, it's easy to just want your child to get the nutrition. I see the point, but I choose the harder path for the long run goals.

I just posted a lovely carrot cupcake recipe at KidsCuisine.net that shows how veggies can be visible and tasty so kids learn how a food can be prepared many ways, and in a way they like.

Janet said...

And those of us with enough to eat waste so much food.

It's tragic. We need to do more.

Oh, The Joys said...

Jen you are so luck to understand everything in your life... EVERYTHING ... as the blessing that it is.

Beck said...

Childhood hunger makes my heart splinter.
At my kids' school, volunteers bring around a cart of breakfast foods (fresh fruit, smoothies, buttered bagels, cereal) to each classroom in the morning so that those very kids get at least one decent meal that day. It's a small thing, but it makes me feel better.

Beck said...

Childhood hunger makes my heart splinter.
At my kids' school, volunteers bring around a cart of breakfast foods (fresh fruit, smoothies, buttered bagels, cereal) to each classroom in the morning so that those very kids get at least one decent meal that day. It's a small thing, but it makes me feel better.

Nickolas said...

That's why I joined standagainstpoverty.org. Heartbreaking.

Lawyer Mama said...

This is heartbreaking. I can't think of a better word for it.

Hetha said...

As a teacher I've also seen this first hand. I've seen kids eat half of a sandwich and tuck the other half in their pockets for their younger sibblings at home. And the best our cafeteria could offer them was highly processed, fat, sugary foods. Our country does need to do more and it's so disheartening when the places like schools that provide those few meals can't (WON'T) do better.

Kyla said...

It is so sad.

Our budget has tightened considerably since I stopped working. We have to make decisions we never had to make before...but we still have enough that we are able to make decisions and not have them made for us. I can't imagine what it would be like to have your options stripped away.

ewe are here said...

It's a truly appalling situation.

My mom has told me about how my dad, when they were quite young and in elementary school together, used to pass out in class he was so hungry.

This shouldn't still be happening.

Karen said...

I was thinking about this, only in reference to sleep. I was listening to a ready show and the topic was American children are in general sleep deprived - too many forms of entertainment at our disposal and the working family schedule has pushed average bedtimes back an hour or two in the last 30 years. There are lots of studies showing that this is detrimental to brain development in children. And I thought, how blessed I am that we have a cozy home that we can make quiet and peaceable at a reasonable hour so we can give our kids this basic thing, this gift humans have to restore, heal, grow and develop literally overnight - and then I thought, not all the sleep deprived kids in America are being kept up by endless cell-phone minutes. Not everyone has a spot to hunker down for the night.

slouching mom said...

Oh, Jen. Yes. This makes sense to me, that the book is for such a specialized, affluent client base.

And my own son's finicky eating has always struck me as coming from a place of privilege. I don't know how to make him see that, though, or even whether I *should*, or *could*.

flutter said...

It's horrible that any child anywhere should suffer.

We can do more

Ally said...

I've been thinking many of the same thoughts as I try to switch my family from eating junk (processed and/or prepared foods) to eating organic, whole foods that are locally grown and then prepared by me. I thought of it today while I made dinner. It wasn't a quick process, and I thought, how would someone do this if they were working full-time or at two jobs? It wouldn't be possible.

I agree with expat chef that one area we should attack is the school lunch program. It is part of the Farm Bill, and it's funding is always in question.

meno said...

Whenever i make spaghetti, i grate a zuccini into it. My child never noticed.

It is one of the shames of our world that poor people do not have the means to eat well. And so, in one more way, the cycle continues.

The Expatriate Chef said...

You can do it even if you work full time. I do. You have to learn to like leftovers. I do 80 percent of all cooking on the weekends. Good thing I like to cook!

It is a privilege, this eating well. I choose good foods and eat with gratitude. We make other sacrifices to spend more on food.

But we can definitely do more for all others who have less. The farm bill got wrecked in Congress for many of the changes it needed. Some good things stayed in for food programs, though.

Snoskred said...

Re the school lunches - Did you ever see Jamie Oliver's school lunches program? It was on tv here a while ago and it was quite inspirational.

One of the best things Jamie did was break down some of the "fast" foods for the kids and show them what they were really eating. Some of those kids will never touch a chicken nugget again - neither will I! Eew!

You might find it on one of your channels over there, somewhere. If so it's worth seeing.

Cheers,
Snoskred
www.snoskred.org

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, oh Jen, this post...as always...

You know, I turn my face away from the news too often (or maybe often enough). It's because I cannot stand the suffering, usually of children. I don't like to hear foster parent stories. My heart often aches as much for the mother.

I look at my kids, especially in those moments when there is a No You Can't Have That, and I ache inside because I want their world precious and what it needs to be to make them their best. And as good as we have it I know we are imperfect enough. I just feel the wealth of all we have and I ache for the people who don't have it.

I thought of you in Boston when a homeless woman sat on the bench near us as we picknicked. I pulled off a hunk of bread and a gob of cheese to offer to her and when I turned she had vanished.

Good luck with your travels. Ours have been renewing. I hope yours are too. :)

KC said...

I'm with oh the joys. And crazymumma.

We should all have to be around hungry children. Maybe we would all do more. xo

liv said...

Jen, you are right: It is not fair. I say this a lot about a multitude of things. Unfortunately, fairness and reality rarely match up in a harmonious melange of roasted vegetables that your kids will eat. (or in any other way)

Beyond issues of fairness, I think people who are leading lives that allow them to do so must do something. Pick up some groceries that are GOOD. Why do so many of us pick up some store brand cans that our own darn kids won't eat for "the poor people"? Put some appetizing damned nonperishables in your cart and take them to where people need food NOW.

(you got me on a testy day!)

Magpie said...

Oh Jen, you break my heart regularly.

carrie said...

We take so many, many things for granted. Just having the time to comment on this post is a luxury that most people don't have.

Thank you.

Lisa B-K said...

I work in foodbanking in the midwest, and everything you say is right on.

And as a former food stamp mom, I know what it's like to wish you could do better even though you're doing your best.

Thanks for this post and the work you do.

deb said...

I watched NOVA last night and there was a show about something called epigenetics. It is the transmission of genetic information, across generations, without changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

What it means is that the amount of food your grandmother had while her mother was pregnant with her, can affect your health today. The same goes for grandfathers. Lack of food is not a one generation thing, it is the gift that keeps on giving to subsequent generations. This also applies to toxins like pesticides. It's not a one time, one generation hit, it's multigenerational. Something we need to start thinking about.

painted maypole said...

i just bought a bunch of food to donate to a local food bank that is running low, and tried to be sure to buy healthier type stuff, but would love to know what you recommend. What are good, nonperishable donations to make that will help people feed their families better?

Momish said...

You truly inspire me, Jen. The way you can take any situation, even a good one for you and M and look at the disadvantages of others as a result... is humbling to say the least.

It is heartbreaking. There is more that we can do. Thanks for the link.

I am curious as to your thoughts. Whenever I am at the supermarket, I include in my bill one of donations for a buck, five bucks, etc. Whatever I can afford at the time. What do you think about those? I once tried to look it up, it seems legit and local, which is one of the things I felt best about it. Helping locally, because I think that makes a greater impact in the end. Less channels.

Just curious as to what you thought about those drives at the checkout counters, knowing you are more aware about these things than I.

Nickolas said...

The results are in! Over 38.8 million people, in 110 countries have broken the Guinness World Record – set last year at 23.5 million - for the largest number of people to “STAND UP AGAINST POVERTY” in 24 hours.