Some days I don’t eat because I forget that I can.
My body is trained on the historical memory of mornings without food.
Even when we grow up, those of us who lived daily with hunger pangs never outgrow them. This is the first thought I had when I read the latest Census figures saying that in 2011, over 46 million Americans live in poverty. Over 16 millon of them are children.
In America, when children go hungry, we almost never hear about it unless it is an extreme case. Politicians, policymakers and the like discuss those children as an anonymous swath of our nation. Faces are attached to their stories when it is too late to feed them, when they have been starved and beaten and left to die by people who are supposed to care for them or when they are too weak to concentrate in school so their grades keep slipping.
When I think about child hunger, I remember sitting in front of a television in the Bronx apartment I shared with my mother, belly half-full, watching USA for Africa video, We Are The World. My favorite musicians, including Michael Jackson, must have really cared about kids like me, I thought.
But all the photos in public service announcements back then were of children a world away.
On one hand, pictures of African children with swollen bellies and pencil thin arms, flies hugging their brown skin in the sun made me grateful. I had clothes, I was not that skinny. My hunger was not as deep.
But no one was singing about the hunger I had. It felt the same, though, like I was languishing just out of plain view while people watched, my body hoarding fat in weird places while I fantasized about food while we were in between checks.
Poverty is an intimate battle that wounds those closest to it. Many of the scars I bear from childhood poverty are all internal – they are how I started emotional eating as an adult. For days there was no food at all, and then, when I got surrounded by it, I ate everything and saved some to overeat later, just in case.
I only experienced full refrigerators when I was in my twenties and I was old enough to hoard food. As a welfare kid who was sometimes homeless, food was all non-perishable and fast. It came in plastic bags from the church pantries and on Styrofoam dishes in soup kitchens for holidays.
The only fresh food I knew about was delivered in school in little compartments: tater tots, pizza and wrinkly french fries. Salads only entered my lexicon at boarding school and later in college. People who wanted to be whole and eat clean ate plants – things I never saw growing in Philadelphia, where I spent the first part of my life or in New York City, where I came of age as a teenager.
I think of hunger as my frenemy. Hunger is a friend because I am motivated to avoid it. I still thank God for helping me pass the days and nights when dinner was water and chips or Little Debbie snacks for 50 pennies from the corner bodega.
Now, I’m a gardener and a foodie. My pantry is not stocked, but in a clutch, when funds are tight, I know how to make meals stretch. To gather chard and peppers from my garden is a miracle. It means so much more than just plants growing in my back yard. It means sustenance, it means I can revel in the moments between dawn and dusk without worrying that I will go without.
When I think about hunger, I still see those babies. I know better than to think that just because there are still about 50 million Americans living below the poverty line stories that begin, “At least things didn’t get worse” miss the point. (Oh, the irony of the Bloomberg News Service which helped NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg amass his fortune. He has 11 homes and has said, probably without shame, that the homeless shelters in New York City are too nice. Mike, if you are listening, you should be ashamed of yourself.)
Anyway, I’m writing this toward helping to find a solution. I’ve started supporting No Kid Hungry in the best way I know how - with my voice, my time and attention, since I don’t have very much money to give at the moment. I will participate in this year’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry between Sept. 16 and 22nd, and I hope some of you will, too. More than that, I hope it helps.
The group is also having a TwEAT OUT all day on Monday, September 17th between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. EST.
How to Participate:
Follow @Dine_Out and @NoKidHungry.
Retweet messages about the Dine Out For No Kid Hungry from these two accounts.
Use the hashtag #NoKidHungry in all your tweets
Share this tweet:
I’m dining out for #NoKidHungry this week. Join me by finding a participating restaurant in your area: http://dineout.nokidhungry.org/maps
“Like” No Kid Hungry
Share news about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry with your Facebook friends:
I’m dining out this week for Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry. Join me by finding a participating restaurant near you! http://dineout.nokidhungry.org/maps