Saturday, November 18, 2006

Eliminating Hunger

Growing up in a working-class family with three siblings, we didn’t have a lot. We weren’t poor, because we had what we needed. There were times I wished my mother had been a little less frugal. For example, it would have been nice to have the rich, expensive Chip Ahoy! Chocolate Chip Cookies sometimes, instead of the 3-packs of cookies for a dollar. You know the ones: the cute little star cookies with that hardened (I guess strawberry) jelly in the center, the hard, oatmeal cookies with the crispy, white icing on top, and my favorite, the almond, windmill cookies with maybe two pieces of a slithered almond glued to it. We weren’t even on welfare, but my mama shopped generic long before it became popular. I used to envy my friends whose moms splurged on Frankenberry, Coco Puffs, and Lucky Charms; for our sugary breakfast cereals consisted of Corn Flakes…and when we were lucky…Rice Krispies…not the frosted ones…just Rice Krispies. But, although we didn’t always get what we wanted, food was never an issue. I always had the privilege of being able to go to our kitchen and satisfy my hunger.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that there are 35 million Americans who don’t have that option. But, their effort to eliminate hunger doesn’t involve making sure people have food to eat. Their idea of eliminating hunger involves eliminating the word hunger from the description of people who don’t have the luxury of just opening the fridge for glass of milk. However, to clear up the distinction about whose more uhm, hungry than others, they’ve revamped the whole hungry thing, and gave it some nice, new, shiny labels. So now, if you eat pork chops instead of range-free chicken, fried in lard as opposed to baked in extra-virgin olive oil, you have “low food security”. But, if you lay away at night wishing like Hell you had those pork chops, fried in lard, then you have “very low food security”.

I keep thinking about the autobiography of Richard Wright, Black Boy. He was raised on “lard mush and greens”, and went hungry so often that later, when his job at the U.S. Postal Service was dependent on him passing a physical examination, he was so under nourished, and weighed so little that he lost the job. And as a little boy, whenever there was an opportunity, he would stash food in his pockets for fear of not having anything to eat later.

Mark Nord, the lead author of a report that the Agriculture Department issues every year measuring Americans' access to food, said "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey." Maybe it’s just me…but, there’s something about the word hungry that just sounds perfect if you have “very low food security”. Where I come from, if it really gets bad we say hōn’gree. And, smacking a fancy-schmancy label on such a condition to make one feel better about having “high food security” (the label for people who have regular access to steak and caviar), doesn’t eliminate the feeling of having to learn algebra on an empty stomach. Something tells me Mark Nord has never been hōn’gree. But then again, people with “very low food security” probably don’t care what we call it.

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