“Mom, I’m hungry!”
I wanted to write a post about childhood hunger. I wanted it to be smart, funny, and poignant. I wanted to present childhood hunger and food insecurity in a way that would help people connect with the dire need to help the over 13 million children right here in America who aren’t getting all the food they need to thrive and grow properly.
There is nothing funny about childhood hunger. I’m not talking about kids who don’t want to eat scrambled eggs because they don’t like the texture, or kids who don’t want to eat what Mom made for dinner so they go to bed hungry or kids who want a snack between meals but it’s far too close to the meal and they won’t want to eat when it’s ready.
I am talking about kids who go to sleep hungry because there is no food in the house at all. Kids who get their only meals at school, kids who dread snow days and vacation days and any day school is closed because that’s going to be a hungry day. Kids who can’t focus on schoolwork because they are so hungry.
Now, some folks will get up on their high horses and start complaining about the adults in the lives of these children. Folks will make judgments, as they tend to do when faced with something uncomfortable. I’ve heard it before, I’ve probably even said it before as well. I’m not immune to being a judgey person.
Just a sample of some of the judgemental things people say about the parents of these kids:
“Why don’t they get a job/get a better job?”
“They are spending all their money on drugs/booze/iPhones/gambling – they deserve to have their kids taken away.”
“They just don’t know how to budget properly.”
(and my favorite)
“Look at how overweight they all are! How can they be starving?”
(apparently, no one knows about the link between obesity and malnutrition, or how sugar and grains are cheaper than protein and vegetables)
It doesn’t matter if any of these things are true – what matters is these kids are starving. They are starving for food. They are being held back because they can’t focus on work at school, and that holds them back in life. They may be lucky and be able to rise above, break the cycle and move forward; it’s much more likely that they are going to repeat the cycle, make some of the same mistakes their parent’s made, and another generation of hungry children will be born.
Yes, people make mistakes. Yes, some of those mistakes have consequences far beyond what can initially be seen. No, I do not, nor will I ever, believe a child should be made to pay for the mistakes of the parents.
Why the hell do I care?
I thought I grew up hungry. I could tell you stories about eating pancakes for six months one year or eating nothing but spaghetti and sauce whenever I visited my mother’s parents. I was a single mother, and I had to visit a food pantry a few times during that time period.
However, I do not live in a food desert.
I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t food on the table, ever. I can’t remember ever truly feeling hungry. Not as a child, and not even as an adult in college. Not even when I was homeless.
I have several factors in my favor: I’m white, I have a large local network of family and friends, I don’t live in a food desert, and I can get very creative in how I obtain food.
(Oh, yes, being white is definitely in my favor as far as the preferential treatment I got at the food pantry, the Social Services office, the fuel assistance office and the church. Whatever illusions I had about being poor and hungry were absolutely shattered when I started talking to POC about food and hunger.)
I care because I can remember seeing friends with children who needed a bag of groceries every month because they just couldn’t make their food stamps stretch far enough, no matter how they economized. I remember seeing someone spank a child for taking an extra slice of cheese from the fridge because the kid was hungry. I can remember people giving me some of the things they got at the food pantry because they had NO IDEA what to do with a bag of dried beans and a bag of rice, and they would rather trade it for another jar of peanut butter and a couple of loaves of bread.
I remember seeing a mother cry because their kid dropped their chicken leg on the ground and before anyone could grab it the dog did. I remember seeing someone dig the chicken wing bones out of the trash and pick the rest of the meat off of them.
Some of these things made me judge those folks harshly – and it didn’t stop me from bringing a bag of groceries to them at the end of the month, or buying treats for the kids to take to school. Things I did when I had the money to do it.
There is just so much to unpack when you start looking at childhood hunger.
And there is nothing funny about it.
Please donate to No Kid Hungry to help end childhood hunger in America.