Some Food For Thought

November 11, 2012
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Shriveled skin stuck to his emaciated bones like glue – the tattered clothing he wore doing nothing to conceal his frighteningly skeletal frame. His cheeks were gaunt; his eyes were hollow. But as my family approached him, a dim glimmer of hope seemed to glisten behind the vacancy. He was a young boy we encountered on the side of the road in a rural village in Pakistan; for a child that looked about nine years old, he bore the body of an infant. He might have been an orphan, he might have been abandoned – we did not know. All we knew was that he was alone, and he was starving. As he held his tiny, begging arms out to us, we could not help but choke back tears. We emptied our pockets and gave him what we hoped would be enough for a month’s worth of sustenance. We then watched as his previously sullen countenance erupted into a joyous smile, assuring us that not a penny of what we gave that little boy would go to waste.
7,000 miles west, a healthy young fourth grader stood in the cafeteria line at Sierra Elementary where, just behind the counter, there lay mounds of all sorts of food: pizza, French fries, burgers, sub sandwiches, salads, sodas, chips, fruits, cookies, milk, candy, and the “specials” of the day. The boy stacked his tray high with everything he wanted, paid, and went to sit down with his friends. He had only 15 minutes to eat before the class bell rang, but there was so much food in front of him that he would not be able to eat it all in time. Faced with this dilemma, he decided to finish only what he could and threw the rest away – even the unopened, untouched food. This was a typical American child in the school cafeteria. Compare the problems of this boy with the very real recounting of the woes of a child in Pakistan: where one had more than enough to eat, he negligently tossed perfectly good food away; the other did not eat properly for weeks at a time, so he valued every grain of rice he was fortunate enough to obtain.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2010 that 1 in 7 people in the world were hungry. But starvation is not only a crisis abroad; the United States Department of Agriculture estimated 1 in 7 American homes were food insecure in 2010 – that’s 17.2 million households in the United States alone. The wide availability and sheer abundance of food in America can fool many of us into thinking that malnourishment is not an issue here; but, the reality is that many Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Even your typical working class, nuclear families are forced to turn to Food Stamps, food banks, and soup kitchens to feed themselves. Take for example, Steve’s family’s story from Steve and his wife Treva live in an affluent neighborhood in Minnetonka, Minnesota with their two teenage daughters. The median household income of their city is $80,000, but both Steve and Treva lost their jobs in the recession and now rely on unemployment benefits and local food banks to feed their family. And they are no anomaly; features pages upon pages of stories similar to theirs – all with ordinary Americans who are facing food deprivation. There is Adriana, a college-educated individual. She once had a high-paying professional career, but now stands in line at the New York HopeLine Food Bank every morning so she can properly feed herself and her bedridden mother each day. Even so, Steve and Adriana are still some of the more lucky ones; there remain millions of Americans who are denied food stamps and aid, and are literally going hungry. If such astounding and unprecedented numbers of people are going hungry in America, what hope is there for the rest of the world?
It seems that such heart-wrenching statistics of the starved fall to blind eyes, for there has been little to no change in American eating habits over the years. The majority of us take our wealth for granted and lose our appreciation for food, replacing it with expedience. It is almost too easy for us to get more than what we need, and then toss what we can’t eat in the trash. Food is cheap; no one cares if it is wasted. As a result, an unfathomable amount of uneaten food finds itself in landfills, instead of in empty bellies. Not only a visitor to developing countries and witness to starvation first-hand, but also as a student in Arizona and previous employee of Jersey Mike’s Subs, I can attest to seeing a great deal of food go to waste daily.
The University of Arizona’s Garbage Project confirmed that the average American wastes more than half a pound of food every day. And this is all from the state that the Phoenix Business Journal said held the highest rate of food insecure children under the age of 18 in 2010. Most people are far too concerned with their weight, diet, and busy schedule to consider the fact that there might be kids in their community who have nothing to eat. We overemphasize the issue of eating healthy, but think little about how much food we discard and the effect it has on our surroundings. If we simply controlled our portion sizes by not getting more than we know we can eat, we would save a great deal of food, as well as maintain a healthier diet for ourselves. Furthermore, if before each meal we reflected on the scarcity of proper nourishment many of our fellow humans faced, we would be far more grateful for our sustenance, and perhaps even motivated to help the less fortunate. World hunger may come to end one day, but not without each and every one of us playing our role to make it happen. No one deserves to go hungry, not even for a day; it is time to stop the starvation, and start the salvation.

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