Friday, September 1, 2017

This Is Hunger!: Plan to Tour the Exhibit Sept 1-7 in the Neveh Shalom Parking Lot

Growing up my mother would tell me about food rationing she endured while growing up in the 1930s in Nazi Germany.  The family was entitled to one egg a week.  That went, she would say, to my grandmother, because she was sick.

Sent on a Kindertransport to England as a 15 year old, she was to be taken care of in a wealthy family that my grandparents knew.  Rather than treat her a a member of the family, she was treated as one of the household help.  There my mother was astonished that those who prepared meals would cut off the crusts of bread and throw them away.  After what she had experienced at home, she couldn't stand that perfectly good food was being thrown in the garbage.  When no one was looking she would rummage through the refuse and retrieve the bread crusts.

My mother spent her entire adult life considerably overweight.  Though she fought it with endless diets, nothing helped.  Certainly there are numerous reasons for problems with personal weight.  However I am convinced that it was my mother's early experience with hunger that made food a continuous issue as long as she lived.  No food was ever discarded.  Plates at every meal were emptied.  To this day I have a kind of revulsion when people take more than they are prepared to eat, when perfectly edible food is carelessly thrown in the trash.

Perhaps the obsession with food that I experienced growing up is why I have chosen to serve on the Oregon Food Bank board and have always seen hunger as the foremost need that must be met for the neediest. 

The big rig from Mazon emblazoned with This Is Hunger has arrived in our Neveh Shalom parking lot.  Everyone should make arrangements to tour the displays.  Both Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden have reserved times when they will personally visit.  I am proud that both of our senators have long histories of championing support for government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) for food for the poor.  We need to be reminded and our consciences raised that members of our community, fellow Portlanders and Oregonians, not only need financial help to eat, but need enough support so that they can eat a nutritious diet including meat and fish, fruits and vegetables and dairy products

No one in our wealthy nation should go hungry.  We produce more food than we can possibly consume.  Yet 1 in 8 Americans experiences food insecurity.  In Oregon the percentage is tragically even higher.  A family that is food insecure is not starving as people experience in a famine, but they may not always know where their next meal will be coming from, or a food insecure child may not know if there will be anything to eat for dinner that night.  

In this country it certainly is not that we do not have sufficient quantities of food.  Clearly our grocery stores are always full.  It is much more a distribution problem and an economic problem.  In many areas of the country and in Oregon as well we have what are known as food deserts.  A food desert is often a remote area where there are no super markets where it doesn't pay for an Albertsons or a Safeway to keep a small grocer stocked with fresh produce.  Certainly it is possible to sustain the body on large quantities of carbohydrates, but it is not healthy.  In addition national food subsidies go largely to the producers of grain products, making them more affordable than more nutritious foods.

In addition though food is not expensive compared with many other countries, often a good diet is still out of the reach of many.  They must choose between paying rent, medications, gas for the car needed to get to work and food.  These are impossible choices.

Carol and I took Governor Kulangoski's challenge several years ago: live for a week on a food stamp budget.  That was eat for $3/day/person.  We made it, but it wasn't easy and it was thankfully just a week.  First of all we drove for our experiment to Winco.  But then we thought, how do poor people get to Winco?  If they take the bus, how much can they possibly carry?  We avoided all the expensive items.  No meat or fish.  No cheese.  No fancy bread.  No fresh fruits and vegetables. Friday morning I said to Carol that I would get the Hallah.  "Where do you think you can take the $5.99 for a Hallah?" my wife challenged me.  Think of it, a Hallah would take up an entire days food budget for two!  What we learned was that yes, it could be done, but not easily, and that on such a tight budget, one thinks about food all the time.  What can I eat and how much does it cost?  And we are adults.  How do you live this way with needy young children?

"This Is Hunger" is an extensive experiential program created by Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger.  Mazon was born in the early 1980's out of a debate in Moment Magazine.  The magazine's founder and editor Leibl Fine challenged the readers with the following question: As Jews we have a responsibility to take care of the Ethiopian Jews newly arrived in Israel.  As Jews we also have an obligation to concern ourselves with those starving in East Africa.  How do I choose between priorities?  In if I have $100 to spend, do I divide it half and half between my particularist Jewish obligations and my universalist humanitarian obligations or 60-40 or 70-30 and if so which receives the 70% and which the 30%?

Though the debate had no clear answers one outcome was the creation of Mazon, a Hebrew word that means food.  Mazon would distribute the funds that it raised to  deal with both Jewish and non-Jewish hunger,  here and abroad.  Their appeal was a fascinating one.  In Eastern Europe it was customary to include the indigent in the community to celebratory events like weddings by adding tables for uninvited guests. Since that is impractical today, Mazon suggested that anyone planning a wedding, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a 70th birthday add 3% to the catering/food bill and send that amount to Mazon as a donation.   They would then distribute the money to food banks.  The Oregon Food Bank has long been one of Mazon's recipients.

So, as we live with full refrigerators and the ability to go to restaurants, we must not forget that too many in our society and even a greater percentage of the world's population do not have those privileges.  We must support government programs and organizations whose purpose is to feed the neediest.  Soon the government will face budgeting challenges.  The most significant is a proposal to cut SNAP by 20%!.  Such cuts are both mean spirited and basically immoral.  Millions of Americans and over half a million Oregonians rely on this most impactful government program to feed the hungry.  Such drastic cuts must be fought.

We will support Senators Wyden and Merkley as they fight for these programs.

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