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Taking Back Our Food and Our Power

A couple days ago Birch came home from school with an excited announcement, “Mom, there’s a food drive at my school. The class that brings the most donations gets a pizza party.” So this afternoon we went to the grocery store to buy peanut butter and spaghetti. It was probably the first of many such trips.

I was having flashbacks to my youth. I have a vivid memory of being 10 years old and carrying a little Heifer Project box in the shape of a cow or goat around neighborhoods asking for donations. I doubt we raised much money, but Heifer definitely recruited me in the global fight against hunger. I’ve given many donations to Heifer in my adult life.

I have another memory of stocking shelves at our local food pantry – a windowless room in a church. It was part of a youth community volunteering effort. It was probably more work to train in all of these youth volunteers than it was worth. Yet it strengthened my resolve to do something about local hunger. And just last month I gave a donation to the local food shelf where I live now, and have put in volunteer hours with them.

These efforts are important and at the same time they are dangerous. After arriving back to my heated single-family home, where we never miss a meal (both growing up and now), I can easily pat myself on the back for doing something good for others. Yet, neither of the efforts taught me to ask WHY. Why are people hungry? In fact, growing up, that question was discouraged. Dismissed with comments such as: “The poor will always be with us.”

If we aren’t talking about WHY then how can we truly address hunger?

Since those days of my innocent youth I’ve learned so much more about hunger. I’ve learned about a food system that fills the pockets of the rich, while leaving many in poverty along the way. The food system where throwing away food is more profitable than feeding the hungry. Take a look at the previous post which lists some resources for finding out more about our food system and actions for food justice.

I’ve also learned about food justice – about migrant workers standing up for their rights, and peasants around the world who are resisting GMOs and multinational companies who are ravaging and impoverishing once vibrant farming communities. I’ve learned about urban food deserts where people are taking food and community back into their hands by growing their own food. And our family is part of a Universal Food Program effort at our town’s elementary school, making healthy and local food available to every student, for free! This program feeds kids, reduces stigma, builds community, and reduces administration. There is so much to be inspired by!

Riv helping out on school garden clean up day.

My kids and I are part of a growing movement to “Take Back Our Food and Our Power”.

Yet, now that my oldest is almost 7, the age when we he is really waking up to social issues of hunger and homelessness, we are getting pulled into emergency responses to hunger. The first thing that went through my head when he came home talking about the food drive is, “Oh no, what about the kids at the school who use the food shelf? How are they feeling right now? Isn’t there a better way to do this?”

Food shelves are part of an “emergency food system” – and yet they have become the staple for so many families. The rich continue to get richer and the poor get poorer. The emergency food system is important and necessary because we live in an economic system that is profit-driven, not driven by the well-being of all. And yet, we must look deeper, our actions must address the root cause, not just the symptoms.

Birch gets richer and richer.

Our trip to the grocery store was an excellent conversation opener. Here’s part of it…

“Do you know why people are hungry?” I ask.
“No,” says Birch.
“Think about our monopoly game this morning. You kept getting richer and richer. And I kept getting poorer and poorer.”
“And I gave you some money!” says Birch.
“You tried to keep me out of bankruptcy, but it was no use. That’s how the capitalist economy is set up. An economy is how our society is organized. In a capitalist economy there are always people who are hungry. It isn’t their fault, it’s a direct result of how the economy works. That’s why we are working hard at changing the economy to one that works for all people, and at the same time giving donations to the food shelf so that people have enough to eat today.”
“hmmmm. Yeah. So I think that my brother’s school should also do a food drive. Will you tell his teacher that?” asks a big-hearted and generous Birch.
I tell him that I will and I also talk with him about the Universal Food Program we are trying to get started at his school and suggest he ask one of the cooks at his school if he can help out.

My goal is to cultivate kindness and compassion, even as I am encouraging the WHY. Taking action out of kindness cultivates compassion. I know that my experience volunteering at soup kitchens has been important in cultivating compassion for folks who have been laid off, who have to choose between heat or food, who have massive medical bills, and anyone else, whatever their reason – It doesn’t matter! AND it is participating in programs that Take Back Our Food and Our Power where I have seen that another economy is possible. People don’t have to be hungry. I want my kids, and all the kids at their schools, to be participating in both kinds of programs. Our time, money, and energy need to flow to both places.

I’m actively working through these big questions about how I want to teach my kids. I would love to hear from you. How is your family responding to hunger that exists today, even while taking action for Food Justice?

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