Thursday, August 21, 2014

No, You Can't Have Lunch

Two new words have crept into our vocabulary and you may or may not be too familiar with them. The words are "food insecurity" and it is estimated that more than 48 million American families, mostly white and living outside cities, are experiencing this deplorable state of personal poverty. But let's not forget the kids in schools, too, because their families may qualify for school breakfast and, sometimes, even lunch or dinner program.

What's the problem here? When school is out for the summer or Christmas or spring vacation, where do these kids get these meals they so desperately need? Who knows?  Not all the schools have plans to provide anything for these kids and they are on their own. Hungry kids have diminished brain size, especially the young and very young.

Depriving families of adequate subsistence and driving them ever lower on the economic scale in this country is unworthy of us and our value for our fellow human beings. Some people treat their animals better than we treat kids all over this country just because of their ethnicity or where they live. Think about that the next time you slip your credit card to the barista at the Starbucks and pay $4 or so for your coffee.

How many meals for these kids or their families would that buy? Oh, you say, that's not enough for even one meal, what are you talking about? I'm talking about making a difference and proving hope and much-needed food for people in need, no matter who they are or where they live.

I knew poverty as a child in the New York City boroughs and I know what it's like to stand in a line three blocks long just so your mother could buy $1 worth of meat. Even before we got on that line, we had to take a subway because it was in the now oh-so-lovely Meatpacking District of New York City.

It was filthy and hot and we got a paper bag to take home on the train. It was no bargain and we paid not just with the money but our dignity because we couldn't even buy more than $1 worth of the leftover meat. The word had gone out like fever through the neighborhood that meat was available at an incredible price and the women grabbed their kids and raced to the subway. I wasn't even in school yet, so I had to go along. I will never forget that trip. It lives with me every day.

Want to make it hit a little closer to home? If you deprive a child of needed nutrition, you are participating in a plan not just of deprivation of food then, but of deprivation to society. You are helping to build the roadway that leads directly to climbing school dropout rates, mental illness and incarceration. You will pay for those missed meals, but you'll do it by paying higher healthcare costs (these families WILL get sick more often), lack of trained personnel for our businesses and increased police to patrol the streets and protect you and your property.

Even if you don't have the charitable instinct in you, isn't it much cheaper to pay for a breakfast or lunch program that lasts all year long? Some day, when you're much older and less agile, you'll have time to sit and fret about your prior missed opportunities.  Kurt Vonnegut paraphrased John Greenleaf Whittier beautifully in one novel where he wrote, "For of all sad words of mice and men, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'. Sad indeed and sadder still is the face of a hungry child or adult. 

How did one of the richest countries in the world, where we fed the rest of the world, become a land lacking in milk and honey? Forget the honey because we're even killing off the bees that are indisputably required to pollinate and raise our crops and fill our gardens with flowers. But, forget it. We can import flowers from South America and anyone who can't afford food, well they just should get along with less. 

We seem to have become a country that is greedy in the extreme for wealth accumulation in the 1% and forgotten that without the other 99% trouble is on the horizon like so many unnoticed storm clouds. Desperation leaves people weakened not just physically, but emotionally and they crave the voices that tell them that the answer lies in eliminating this or that social program so there'll be more for the rest of us. 

But what do you do with those people for whom you've just eliminated their last bit of hope? How far can you push people, or should we just begin to set up a body-collection agency to pick up the throw-away people we refuse to feed? After all, it would create jobs and isn't that what this country needs? I know it sounds gross and you'd never live in an America that would do that, would you? But you do and it's getting worse and you are contributing to it. 

Instead of putting the face of missing children on milk cartons, perhaps we should put the faces of hungry children instead.

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