The Power of Food

January 21st, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on The Power of Food

hungryYesterday we paused to reflect and remember the legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 82nd anniversary of his birth.

Dr. King once said, in a challenge to our nation, “Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? There is no deficit in human resources. The deficit is in human will.”

Many years have passed since the death of Dr. King, and it is sad and sobering to ponder the terrible fact that hunger continues to permeate every community in our nation. More than 50 million Americans are food insecure. There are over 15 million children in the United States living in poverty, struggling every day just to get enough food, including 10 million children under the age of six. We know that a child who is hungry cannot learn, and is in danger of becoming an adult who cannot learn.

Across the globe, the statistics are even more staggering. One billion people (1 in 7) go hungry every day throughout the world. In a few decades our world population will be 9 billion. Are we prepared to feed everyone? Every 10 seconds a child dies of hunger – that’s more than HIV aids, malaria, and tuberculosis combined!

Perhaps most frustrating about hunger and starvation is that we actually know how to fix it. It’s not a disease or plague that is wiping out populations and we simply have no cure. It’s a problem with a knowable solution! In the world, we grow enough food for every man, woman, and child to eat 2,700 calories per day. That’s a lot of calories. At that pace, we’d all even be a little chunky.

Today, for most of us in the organic and natural foods industry, while working at our jobs, we will be surrounded by an abundance of food. Most likely, we will even throw away or discard some food. It’s simply how it goes. Our conversations with our customers will reflect the luxury of our lives… “why don’t you have any raspberries today?” or “was this zucchini treated with GMO’s?” All very fine and reasonable questions in a retail food setting; but no matter whether you’re asking the questions, or answering them, chances are, you are not dealing with food insecurity in your life. You have abundance – as it should be. That is the goal for everyone.

Today, even as we reflect on Dr. King’s teachings, let us be mindful, as we move throughout our day, of those who have no food. While it may be beyond the capacity of our imagination to actually conceive of what it’s like not to have food, it’s not beyond our comprehension, and certainly not beyond our compassion. It’s not a problem of there being enough food. We grow enough food to feed everyone on the planet. The issue is access. We’re better than this… or we need to be better than this. We must.

Gandhi once said, “to a hungry man, a piece of bread is the face of God.” Each of us is responsible for what we see and what we know. We are all citizens of the world and hunger is something that we must confront, at least in our own awareness. So, what can you do? Become aware, and carry that awareness with you as you move throughout the day. Be mindful of the situation, feel it in your heart… and then you’ll know what to do. A good starting point – be grateful for the abundance of food, the blessing of bounty, that you have each day. Feeling grateful is an opportunity… and one that those who live in poverty or with food insecurity are very challenged to feel.

Feeding America, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, are the nations leading domestic hunger-relief charity. They describe their mission as feeding America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engaging our country in the fight to end hunger. Each year, the Feeding America network provides food assistance to more than 25 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than nine million children and nearly three million seniors. Their network of more than 200 food banks serves all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Feeding America network secures and distributes more than two billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually. On their website they have provided statistics compiled through the U.S. Census Bureau and the USDA about poverty, hunger and food insecurity. We encourage you to visit their website, but below are some of the more staggering statistics that we face in our country:

– In 2012, 46.5 million people (15.0 percent) were in poverty.
– In 2012, 26.5 million (13.7 percent) of people ages 18-64 were in poverty.
– In 2012, 16.1 million (21.8 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.
– In 2012, 3.9 million (9.1 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.

Food Insecurity and Very Low Food Security
– In 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.
– In 2012, 14.5 percent of households (17.6 million households) were food insecure.
– In 2012, 5.7 percent of households (7.0 million households) experienced very low food security.
– In 2012, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.0 percent compared to 11.9 percent.
– In 2012, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.0 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (35.4 percent) or single men (23.6 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.6 percent) and Hispanic households (23.3 percent).
– In 2011, 4.8 million seniors (over age 60), or 8.4% of all seniors were food insecure.

We can change this! Celebrate the message of Dr. King. That’s a good start.