I appreciate thoughtful and beautiful food. Cooking is a great love and a creative outlet for me. I love to make things from scratch, and I have the time and resources to do so. I also have the time and resources to shop for expensive ingredients. Something I do very often is dream up an idea for a meal, either because I saw a glossy color photo of it in a cookbook, or because I read about it on a food blog, and I head off to the grocery store for those exact ingredients to make that very meal. I come home with an expensive bottle of walnut oil, or a package of smoked salmon, some olive tapenade or chili oil, along with piles of organic vegetables, meats and spices.
I sometimes need these harsh reminders to be more aware of how lucky I am that I get to shop and eat the way I do, and that I have never actually been in a situation where I don't know where my next meal is coming from. I am lucky that I get to think of food as beautiful and creative, and not just necessary.
15.7% of Maine households, more than 200,000 people, are facing hunger.
Maine ranks 1st in New England for food insecurity, which means a person lacks access to enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life.
24 percent of Maine children, or nearly 1 in every 4 kids, are food insecure.
September is Hunger Action Month, and I am taking this opportunity to remind myself, and you, that there are people all around us who are hungry. Some of our neighbors are just scraping by. They are not shopping for rare ingredients, reading food blogs in their spare time, or showing off photos of their dinner on instagram. I cringe when I think about how the concept of a "juice fast," of starving yourself on purpose in order to decrease toxins in your body and create a tingly, glowing feeling in your skin would sound to a family struggling with hunger.
The high school where I teach has a surprisingly high percentage of kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch. It's alarming how many kids come to school each morning having not had breakfast and having no idea where dinner is coming from. Even worse, there are many kids who would rather not eat lunch than have anyone know that they qualify for free or reduced lunch. Some of my colleagues provide breakfast in the mornings to their students just to give them a fighting chance at being able to focus on school work for the rest of that day.
I worry that the foodie culture is elitist, leaves others out, and that it creates even more of a stigma about admitting when someone can't afford groceries, let alone organic ones.
One thing I struggle with is how to help my kids understand how lucky they are. They always ask, "What's for dinner?" and have never had to ask, "Are we having dinner?" They sit down with their family every night to a hot, healthy, balanced meal. In our little family, dinner time has a whole mini-culture surrounding it, with expectations for conversation, manners and gratitude. We cheer when the kids try and enjoy new foods. They are praised for eating well. They almost always remember to say thank you to us for preparing this meal for them. When I pack their lunches, I am picky about what I will or will not give them.
1 in 4 households in Maine do not look like this. There are starving children, and they are not just in Africa, they are right here, around the corner, at the lunch table with our kids, and in our neighborhoods. If the problem of poverty seems too huge for you to grasp, consider this line from Good Shepherd Food Bank:
"Hunger is not only a result of poverty, it perpetuates poverty. While poverty is a complex issue, feeding people is not."Hunger is not political, or something we agree or disagree with. No matter what you feel about legislation or fairness surrounding welfare and assistance programs, you acknowledge that every child deserves access to food.
So, what can we do?
• Let us pause before we eat. Make a point to be grateful for food, out loud.
• Avoid saying or letting our children say: "I'm starving" or "I'm going to die" if I don't get a snack right now.
• We can continue to appreciate and celebrate food, to talk about it, blog about it, and photograph it, but let us supplement this practice with gratitude and active support for others who are less fortunate.
• Become involved in organizations that help to support food security. We can donate and spread the word about the need for food donations.
• Take your kids with you to donate food, or help prepare meals at a food pantry or soup kitchen.
• Talk to your kids about hunger. Make it less of a stigma. "Sometimes, moms or dads lose their job and money is tight and families can't always afford to shop for food."
• Donate! Good Shepherd Food Bank does incredible work in Maine, and their website has a lot of great information.
• Run the Turkey Trek! If you are a local, please join us again, or for the first time, for the Annual Turkey Trek, a 4-mile trail run or walk in the Bangor City Forest on Thanksgiving Day. The entry fee for this group run/ walk is a donation of food to Good Shepherd Food Bank, and it is a great way to show gratitude, help our community, and get some fresh air and exercise on Thanksgiving morning. Check back here for details.
Eat well. Be thankful. Help each other. xo