By Jean Blish Siers *
Walking into my local Costco a couple weeks ago, I realized Christmas had arrived, with trees, cards, gift-wrap and bows! Whole aisles of toys replaced the gardening supplies and back-to-school lunchboxes and backpacks. Which would be fine, I guess, if it hadn’t been September. And 95 degrees outside. And if we weren’t skipping Halloween and Thanksgiving in our rush to get to Christmas. For me, it was too much way too soon.
Aside from the big holidays, other events are lost in our rush to over-consume. Did you know World Food Day is this Wednesday, October 16?. World Food Day sounds like a lot of fun, when we gather to eat pirogi and enchiladas and pupusas and curries and pastas and sushi and all those other tasty treats. Have I hooked you? Well, it’s not quite a celebration of world foods. Instead, United Nation’s World Food day is “a day of action dedicated to tackling global hunger.”
According to the UN, 820 million people worldwide suffer from hunger. And an additional 1.3 million are overweight or obese, typically because of poor food options. A sobering thought.
In the United States, 37.2 million people live in food insecure households. More than six million of those people are children. In North Carolina, where I live, about 630,000 of our neighbors go to bed hungry each night. We have the eighth-highest rate of food insecurity in the nation.
Sometimes people ask me, “How can so many people be hungry if we also have an obesity epidemic?” Then we have a discussion about nutritious foods versus foods that are merely calorie-dense, those foods that fill a stomach but are full of fat and sugars and refined carbohydrates causing obesity. We talk about how expensive good, fresh fruits and vegetables are compared with boxed macaroni and cheese, or sodium-laden canned soups and stews.
In the US, it’s easy to feel like we live in a food carnival, where some kind of food is available everywhere we go. Fill up the car? Buy a hotdog. Stop at the CVS for a prescription? Grab a bag of chips. Pop into Lowe’s for paint and come out drinking an energy drink and some Cheez-Its.
But for much of the world, food — all food — is scarce. About 60% of us subsist on simple meals: beans or vegetables and rice. Vegetable curries. Soups.
How do we, in our food carnival, respond to this? One way is to host a “simple supper” on Wednesday. Or aim for October 24, which is National Food Day. Then take the money you would have spent on a more elaborate dinner and donate it to a worthy cause working to combat hunger. It can be Society of St. Andrew (for every dollar, we are able to get 30 servings of produce to neighbors in our community!) or your local food pantry or soup kitchen.
Invite you friends and neighbors. Hold the “simple supper” at your church and talk about your congregation’s response to hunger in your community. If it’s too late to pull that together, do it any other time. Do it once a week! Because hunger doesn’t take a holiday. Our neighbors, both here and around the world, are hungry. Every single day.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Western NC, Charlotte Area, and South Carolina Program Coordinator