The Hunger Challenge is almost over for 2009 and, as they did last year, Tyson Foods issued a challenge of their own: Last year's challenge was to comment on a blog post. This year it is to tweet a hunger fact with the hashtag #HChal and Tyson would donate 100 pounds of food to Bay Area food banks for every tweet up to 100,000 pounds. In just over a day the challenge was met with thousands of tweets and Tyson delivered their food donation today.
Yesterday I received a letter from my local food bank that included the fact that July and August had the highest demand for their services in the history of the food bank. As more and more people go hungry and visit food banks to provide food for their families, funds and donations to the food banks are decreasing. While it is nice to see companies like Tyson make generous donations and bloggers taking the challenge to raise awareness and individuals donating what they would have spent above the $28 for the week to food banks, Tyson's tweetable facts about hunger and questions raised by the food challenge make plain the many broader issues and needs beyond the pressure of getting immediate relief to the growing ranks of the hungry.
Commenting at my blog, Karoli of Odd Time Signatures and MOMocrats notes that she couldn't participate in The Hunger Challenge because of the food and nutrition needs of her son recently diagnosed with multiple health concerns and his need to gain weight. Karoli is facing the loss of her health insurance because of the sky-high cost of insuring her family. In the discussion around health care reform many argue that individual responsibility for health and weight management through healthy eating choices is an important component. Anyone doing the hunger challenge, especially here in the Bay Area where the cost of living is expensive, knows that consistently eating a healthy diet that isn't loaded in starchy calories is extraordinarily time, resource and energy consuming. Cheap, filling food, especially what is available in areas that are not served by grocery stores (like large swaths of lower-income neighborhoods in my city, Oakland) is often not the healthiest.
Gayle Keck of the San Francisco Food Bank and Been There Ate That asked us to consider several questions. I found that I couldn't answer all of them but they did get me thinking about how complex and tangled an issue hunger is.
The information offered by food bloggers on how to make the most of the limited food stamp budget is awesome. However those of us offering recipes have access and resources that aren't necessarily available to the poor. We have secure working refrigerators and freezers. We have pots, pans and all kinds of equipment in our kitchen. We have cupboards full of spices. And most of us are not trying to figure out how to whip up a tasty, nutritious cheap meal day after day.
In preparation for the food challenge for several weeks I read circulars, clipped coupons, planned and strategized my meals (and even then some of my ideas turned out to be too expensive). I'm single, I work primarily from home and I have a car and access to multiple grocery stores. And I am exhausted and my stomach is growling as I type this post. I cannot imagine the overwhelming burden of having to live this way if I had children, did not have a car, if there were no grocery stores in my neighborhood, if I worked multiple jobs outside the home. Even in families with two parents, where homekeeping duties are being more equally shared between partners, most of the work of feeding the family falls to women. Hunger is therefore a woman's issue.
The type of food available is a political issue as much of the food supply and costs in this country result from forces governed by the farm bill. Food stamps are an economic issue. A recent study of the impact of the economic stimulus program indicates that food stamp assistance returned the biggest bang for the buck by increasing the GDP by $1.73 for every dollar of aid.
Hunger is a feminist, political, economic issue. I personally would add that it is a moral issue as well.
I was telling someone yesterday about the challenge. She asked me what action is being suggested for people to take once our awareness is raised and the challenge ends. I didn't have an easy answer because as I just touched upon (and, really, I merely scratched the surface) hunger is a big, complex issue with many different tentacles. While I don't have a simple answer of what to do once the challenge ends, it is my hope that awareness raised, participants (myself included) and observers will go beyond working on addressing the symptoms (though that is incredibly important) and commit to educating themselves on the broader root causes and problems that have to be solved in order for food banks to go out of business and food stamp to not be needed.
What ideas do you have for actions we can take going forward? What will you commit to doing?
Links to many of the blogs and twitter handles of those taking the challenge can be found at The Hunger Challenge blog.
BlogHer CE Maria Niles is blogging The Hunger Challenge at PopConsumer.
More from living