Last night, after spending more than $160 at the grocery store, I quickly cleaned out the vegetable crisper, throwing away mushy asparagus, a hot house cucumber that looked like a science experiment, and three leeks that I intended to use in a recipe...that just never happened.
And then, this morning at 4 a.m. during my bout of insomnia, I watched A Place at the Table.
A Place at the Table documents hunger in America. Hunger. Not the effort to eliminate GMOs or the fight against Monsanto, which tends to be at the forefront of food news.
The lack of real food for our kids' classmates. The inability of a working parent to feed his or her family. Mothers who tuck their children into bed, comforting them because their tummies are empty.
Have you experienced hunger? I haven't. My kids haven't. Right now, our refrigerator and pantry are overflowing with food. Real food. Fresh eggs from our chickens. A bowl of apples, pears, and bananas on the counter. And yes—some bad snacks in the pantry. All from my 30-minute shopping trip at Publix, which is less than five minutes away from our house.
But what if we lived in a food desert, where the nearest grocery store was 45 minutes away? What if I had to take two different buses to get to that store after working all day? What if, after arriving at the store, my food budget was $3 dollars...a day?
It makes the McDonald's Dollar Menu seem awfully appealing, doesn't it?
Today, more than 200 food bloggers are dedicating their posts to fight hunger. While I consider myself a garden blogger rather than a food writer, the reality is that I write about growing food. (And flowers, but let's stick to the edibles today.)
The truth is, I knew hunger still existed. But don't we tend to think of images of malnourished children from third-world countries when we think of hunger? I don't think of hunger relating to my neighbors, community, or kids' friends.
I'm naïve. Or at least, I was. A Place at the Table opened my eyes.
Thirty percent of Americans have no idea when to expect their next meal.
One in three point three people.
And of those 48.8 million food insecure Americans, 16.2 million of them are children.
Kids, trying to focus in school while their tummies growl.
Kids, whose brains should be growing and thriving—but are not receiving the nutrition necessary for healthy development.
Kids, who are developing Type 2 diabetes at an alarming rate. According to U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes due to poor nutrition.
The reality is that many of these families live in food deserts, where access to healthy food isn't an option. Grocery chains look to profits when evaluating their sites, and in our own community in Spartanburg, South Carolina, many chains abandoned the community. Without access to transportation, families rely on the closet source of food available—often convenience stores, where the inventory of chips and candy bars is high, and the nutritional value is nil.
Our community, though, is working on our food deserts. Our thriving Hub City Farmers' Market is located in an underserved area and accepts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) vouchers. Plans are underway for a Healthy Food Hub in a current food desert, housing the market, a café that will sell produce, and an urban farm, which will also employ community members. It's a start. There's a dedicated team in place, many grants written, and many community members involved who are determined to make it happen.
But what about the communities that aren't willing or able to step up? Will we allow Big Ag to continue to receive more than a quarter of a trillion dollars for food subsidies on corn and soybeans, which allows junk food to be affordable, while less than one percent of subsidies are delegated to farmers raising fruit, vegetables, and processed grains? Since 1980, when the American obesity epidemic began, the cost of fruit and vegetables increased by 40%, while the cost of processed food decreased by 40%, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Isn't something wrong with this picture?
Something is also wrong when we try to help our youngest citizens with free school meals. The federal government reimburses schools $2.68 per meal. Now, out of the $2.68 budget, subtract costs for labor...administration...gas for deliveries...
What's left? Ninety cents. 90 cents to feed a child.
It's depressing. How can we claim to be a world leader, when America is ranked last among the IMF Advanced Economy countries for its inability to feed its people?
There's no easy solution. Families trying to earn a living lose federal assistance if their income exceeds $24,000—for a family of three.
Three people, trying to live on $24,000.
We know we can't snap our fingers and solve hunger. A blog post isn't going to make everyone have access to healthy food tomorrow.
But what can we do?
Then, make your voice heard here.
Finally, use your gardening power. What if, instead of buying that delicious-smelling witch hazel bush, we purchase a container, seeds, and soil, and taught a child how to grow a salad garden? What if we leverage the power of our community garden clubs and spend a meeting planting an edible garden at a local school stuck in a food desert, teaching the kids the power of growing food? What if we adopt an urban community center, helping them learn how to grow a community garden filled with healthy food?
Think what we could accomplish!
OK, I know I'm a little Pollyanna-ish.
Still, there's a quote that's been making the rounds on gardening sites and Facebook pages recently. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
When a pack of lettuce seeds cost $2 for several hundred seeds, and a single head of lettuce costs $2...it's a no-brainer.
Many food-insecure people may not have a yard for a garden. Still, a container placed on a stoop or balcony can provide an ongoing source of nutrition. Plus, many of the food deserts are found in rural areas, where there might be room for a backyard garden. That's where we gardeners can help. By providing our time, experience, and perhaps the tools to get started, we can make a difference in providing healthy food.
One of the challenges for the Food Bloggers Against Hunger was to provide a nutritious recipe based on the food stamp allowance of $3-4 per day. While not exactly a recipe, a cut-and-come again salad bowl can provide an ongoing source of food. Some of the plants are perennials...
...while others are quick to grow from seed.
The ingredients I used were all grown from seed and include:
Red Russian Kale (3)
Rainbow Swiss Chard (3)
Speckled Lettuce (6)
Tom Thumb Peas (7)
Deeper containers can hold carrots, while 5 gallon buckets can support tomatoes and peppers. All require minimal space, and all provide good nutrition.
So what do you think? Are you up for the challenge? Can you commit to provide an edible container to a family in need, or to help a school supply nutrition to its children? If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments.
We gardeners are powerful. Let's teach people how to grow food—and let's help find a solution to hunger.