We live in the most affluent nation in the world. A country that coast-to-coast still produces more food than any other, a country with the natural resource gift that allows our farmers to grow crops from apples to zucchini, corn to wheat, and avocados to yucca. The breadth of our climate and the quality of our soil is such that tropical fruits can flourish in Florida and grapes for wine can be grown in nearly every state. The restaurant industry is a $500 billion dollar a year business with almost 1 million freestanding operations from coast to coast. The distribution systems that has been designed in the United States can deliver any good to the back door of a restaurant in Chicago or the smallest desert town in New Mexico and most of the largest food manufacturing companies in the world call the United States their home. Yet there are millions of people in this great nation who wake up hungry every morning.
If we can put aside all of the political debate about who pays for this, the apparent abuses that inevitably crop up when you create a program to help, the pundits who say that some are just lazy and even the argument about ignorance to good nutrition, I can’t, for the life of me, come up with any argument that would allow a person living in this country of affluence to be hungry.
I know of many chefs who have taken this cause to heart and are doing their part to help. There are answers that make sense – some that involve government, but many that do not. The answer cannot be one quick fix; there is no magic pill to solve hunger in America. It will be a collaborative effort using many avenues to address a reality that should not be a problem. There are many other issues that could easily fall under the category of “challenging without any apparent solution”, but not hunger in the United States.
Some examples of creative ideas that come to mind: when cities plan their urban landscaping, instead of planting decorative trees – plant fruit bearing ones that anyone can access; instead of landscaping – why not gardenscaping for homes and apartment complexes; instead of throwing out student’s lunches because their account is empty why not redirect some funds in local towns for frivolous expenses that are cosmetic – feed our children first! Let’s support our local food pantries every day rather than wait for those semi-annual food drives around the holidays. The amount of food that grocery stores and restaurants discard because they have gone past their prime is almost obscene. I know that many operations do re-direct their “still good” aging food, but many do not. Teach a neighbor how to cook if you want to really do something worthwhile. Some of the hungry in America are those who are not aware of the importance of a well-prepared healthy diet. Even more important – teach a neighbor how to shop so that they can take those cooking skills and apply them to fresh healthy foods rather than relying on convenience items that do more harm than good. Volunteer at a soup kitchen every now and then, it does the soul good to help.
Food is one of the essential things in life than supports the body and mind, gives pleasure, creates a baseline of dialogue and brings people together. If there is anything that truly falls under the category of an America “right”, it is a full stomach and healthy body. We cannot, as a country, grow and prosper unless our citizens are physically prepared to thrive. Our children cannot assimilate knowledge and contribute in the classroom without proper nourishment, and we cannot condemn other nations with regard to how they do or do not care for their people if we do not care for our own. Hunger leads to despair and despair leads to desperate acts (violence and other criminal acts).
Hunger in America should not happen. This is not a political issue that should be a topic of debate. This is something that can be fixed and should be fixed – something that will take all of us to solve, not just government programs – people programs. If you want to do something meaningful this year, something that will truly make a difference then do what you can to feed a hungry neighbor.
The following information provided by: http://www.dosomething.org points to the extent of the problem in our country.
• One in six people in America face hunger every day
• 20.6% of U.S. homes with children suffer from “food insecurity” (fear that they will not be able to provide sufficient nutrition for their family)
• 50 million Americans struggle to put enough food on their family table
• Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites.
• 40 percent of food is thrown out in the U.S. every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.
To those who dedicate their time, effort, money and/or food to help others with important nutrition – I offer a tip of the chef’s toque. To those who have yet to take on this cause, I would ask – what could be more important?