A couple weeks ago, I got fooled into eating some alligator at a festival (I thought it was a super-sized chicken finger) and also frog legs (which I thought were chicken wings). The taste is different, although does resemble some taste of chicken in the mix; but they are certainly not something I would choose to eat.
Interestingly enough, I grew up eating these foods, in addition to turtle, rabbit, squirrel, snake, and occasionally, bear. I ate these foods because we were very poor and this was what “poor” people ate when they couldn’t afford to buy foods like chicken or beef.
Today these items are sold as a delicacy in some fancy restaurants, or at festivals, and are very expensive. My stomach still turns at the idea of having had to eat these things, especially bear! But when we were hungry, and it was one of our only sources of protein, we welcomed it into our hungry bellies.
In the United States, the richest country in the world, one in five children goes to bed every night hungry or malnourished. It’s a hard fact to swallow. I am haunted by the billboard I see as I drive out of my community that says one in four children go to bed hungry in North Carolina.
How can a country this rich and privileged allow that to happen?
There are many wonderful programs out there trying to address the problem: school lunch programs, food stamps, soup kitchens, food pantries, etc., but it is not enough!
We have to look at the root of the problem. Why is our government actually not paying attention to this? Why is there such a push to cut programs like food stamps, school food programs, and welfare while often blaming poor people as being stupid or lazy? Or, accusing the fact that so many children are hungry (and homeless) as somehow being their parents’ fault and therefore not their responsibility.
Just to set the record straight: my father was not lazy. He worked seven days a week as a tenant farmer and picked up other odd jobs. He worked 12 to 16 hour days. I started working in tobacco and in the fields when I was 10-years old.
Even though we worked all the time, we often did not have enough to eat in my years growing up and being malnourished for months on end. We were going to bed hungry because after dividing the small pot of food into the plates of two adults and three growing children, it was just not enough to satisfy our hunger. We would often depend for days on end on a staple of pinto beans, which we could grow and store. For a long time after, I couldn’t eat them, although I have grown to like them again.
Today, our movement refers to this phenomenon as “food insecurity”. I call it hungry or malnourished. Growing up, I thought hungry looked like the poor starving children advertised on television with large crying eyes and bloated stomachs. I had no reason to complain. I don’t want to discount the necessity to addressing starvation as an international crisis as well. But we also need to understand the impact of hunger and malnourishment in children today.
How do we understand hunger? How do we look at the fact that the majority of states that have the highest rates of hunger, also have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in children?
I never went out to a restaurant or actually had a steak until I was 17 and was invited by a friend’s family. I was appalled at spending $10 on a meal. I never had Chinese food, pizza, or other ethnic food served in restaurants, or even things like broccoli and asparagus, as we didn’t grow those things in the hot South. I was 27 before I tasted any of these foods. At the age of 44, my wife and I went out to eat, I became hysterical and ran to the car just because she would dare to not order the cheapest entrée, but also ordered an appetizer, a soda, and a dessert.
My most spectacular memory of food though was when I was a teenager and my father had enough money to go to the gas station on Fridays nights and buy 10 cooked hotdogs with buns for $1. On special occasions, he also bought a Baby Ruth candy bar which 5 cents and had two small bars in the package. For dessert, my parents would get one bar cut into two pieces. And us girls would get a bar cut into three pieces. Ecstasy!
Some harder memories are the fact we ate dirt as small children. Why? We craved the nutrients in the red clay dirt of rural piedmont North Carolina. Poor pregnant women especially craved the clay that I now know is rich in calcium, iron, copper and magnesium. These are essential minerals for the human diet but even more critical during pregnancy.
First and foremost we need to start talking about this issue! We need to educate ourselves about how serious this problem is. How did you experience hunger, if ever?
I encourage you to write your comments – about ever being hungry, about having an overabundance of food, about how much food you waste, or about actions we can take to solve these problems in the comment sections below.
Help us at Spirit in Action continue this conversation and continuing our work organizing poor people to address these issues through our local program in the Appalachia, We the People: Working Together.
Next week, I will send out part 2 of this hunger blog as part of a series of blogs about experiencing poverty. Please resend this blog to your contacts. Thanks.