Focus: Enough: Food gratitude

Gratitude is a term that gets bandied about quite a bit from Thanksgiving through Christmas. It’s not a bad thing, to reinforce a sense of gratitude for the things we have. Every year, though, one of my hopes is for this sense of gratitude to last well into the new year.

Since its release in 2012, I have been using A Place at the Table as part of my Politics of Food unit. Student reaction has been consistent: those who have enough food on the table are surprised that hunger is so rampant; those without enough food end up coming to me to talk. They aren’t on Food Stamps because mom/dad/guardian has just lost a job, become disabled, or lost unemployment benefits and although actively seeking, cannot find another job. While I am aware that I teach in a Title I School (those with high percentages of low-income students), when I am teaching, I just see them as students, not a socio-economic statistic. I am never surprised by the number (usually right around the National average of 1 in 10), but sometimes by who: bright, positive, sunny-dispositioned students, with GPA’s over 3.5. They don’t appear tired, don’t seek attention in a negative fashion, don’t appear to have a care in the world. Athletes, academics, and a few who have full time jobs outside of school to help make ends meet. We think about hunger as an urban problem, but it isn’t. Hunger is everywhere, in every school, in every town all across the country.

I have learned from my hungry students that they don’t want a fuss made; that family pride won’t allow them to put their names in for free Thanksgiving dinner baskets that our Student Council and Interact Clubs put together; that they haven’t put in a Free and Reduced Lunch form because they have parents/guardians who view that not as help, but as admitting defeat.

I am middle class. Solidly middle class, and my experience growing up did not include being hungry. I do not know what that is like. We have enough food on our table, so I have never had the heart-wrenching experience of putting a child to bed with an empty stomach. And no matter how empathetic I might be, I cannot fathom the depths of pain that must accompany that situation; that must accompany saying, “I’m sorry. There isn’t any more to eat.”

Ditching the Drive Thru discusses less expensive ways to obtain clean food, but admittedly it addresses the issue from a decidedly middle-class perspective. It does not have a plan or a method for people at poverty or below to obtain clean food. I wish I had an answer for that. I know that my CSA donates fresh food to a food bank that will distribute it. I know that other farms do that as well. And while a private farmer doesn’t accept Food Stamps, there are more and more Farmer’s Markets around that country that do, which is a start. And as to making better, more nutrient-dense food less expensive? Maybe government money should subsidize green beans and carrots and other fresh foods rather than corn, soy, and wheat.

I know that when I ask students if they will accept a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables from me, sometimes they will say yes and other times no. I know that when we donate cans to the food drive, I choose what I would put on my own table: vegetables, tuna fish, and fruit. My colleagues and I keep granola bars in our desks, and bring extra apples or oranges every day. We do this to carry on the tradition of a now-retired colleague. I know that we can’t change the world, but sometimes, we can change a moment in one student’s life. We all have that power.

Some food for thought:  My son and husband have worked with our local Scout troops collecting non-perishable food, and every year he makes the same observation: the trailer park up the road and the low-income housing development always donated more food to the drive than any other neighborhood.

Why write about this in February? Because the Food banks are probably starting to need more food. My goal for this month is to make sure to bring food to the Food Banks in my area.