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.