Feb. 26 was Ash Wednesday, and for our family and members of our faith, it marks the official beginning of Lent. We’ll spend the next forty days reflecting, abstaining, giving and preparing our hearts and souls for Easter.
On this day, we are called to fast, so I spent the day in my office - my stomach grumbling and my mind wandering to foods I might make to eat the next day. (I’m thawing a pot roast as we speak!)
In the grand scheme of things, I realize it’s not that long to go without eating, especially when we consider the children here in the United States today who regularly wonder when their next decent meal will be.
While we tend to think about hunger being a global problem not seen locally, food insecurity is alive and well in the United States today. One in seven children in the U.S. are uncertain where their next supper will come from.
To get a picture of what food insecurity looks like, Clay Dunn, the chief communications officer at the non-profit organization, No Kid Hungry, recently said in an interview with Mashable, “Food insecurity looks like lots of things. It looks like empty cupboards in some households. It looks like having to choose between paying the electric bill or buying groceries in other households. There are a lot of families struggling to make ends meet, stretching money to cover costs, including food.”
READ: U.S. child hunger facts that may shock you
According to Feeding America, 21 million school-aged children receive free or reduced lunches during the school day. The organization estimates that 16 million American children face hunger each year, which is troubling when we consider that 70 billion pounds of food goes to waste each year.
What’s more, Dunn says a recent survey showed that 75% of American teachers have noticed that some of their students don’t have access to adequate amounts of food.
"Children come to school hungry, and a hungry child can't learn," Dunn says. "We need to make sure their stomachs are full so they are hungry for knowledge, not food.”
The topic of food insecurity has been a big one in our house recently. This week in particular, with National FFA Week going on, our daughter’s school has been having a food drive, so she has been learning about helping those in need in our community, and she has helped select the items to donate to the food pantry.
READ: What to donate to a food bank and what to avoid
Beyond that, you may recall that I announced on this blog at the end of last year that Tyler and I had become licensed foster parents in 2019. Since completing our home study, we have had seven kids come and go in our care. It’s been rewarding to see these kids respond positively as we share our ranch life with them, but it has been even more eye-opening and humbling to see how trauma and living in places where food might not have always been available, continues to impact them long after they have come into care and gotten used to having regular meals.
One thing we always make sure to do is to have plenty of food and snacks on hand. Oftentimes, these kids will request to have crackers in their rooms, and we gladly comply because we want them to know that there is plenty of food in our house, and they won’t ever go hungry when they are staying with us!
Needless to say, hunger for children, is constantly on my mind. And that’s why I get so fired up about politicians trying to impose things like Meatless Mondays in public schools. Placing the responsibility and burden of solving climate change on children by eliminating meat from the menu at their schools is harmful, ridiculous, hypocritical and wrong. To take away a nutrient-dense product like beef from these kids, who may only get that one decent meal in a day, is a tragic move.
Policies matter. Freedom to eat the foods we like and can afford matters. The idea that we should slap a sin tax on meat or tax livestock producers for emissions will only lead to hurting the food insecure in our country by driving up the cost of quality protein sources and leading to a wider gap between the nourished and the hungry.
I could dive deeper on this topic, but perhaps I’ll save the rest of this conversation for a follow-up blog post down the road. For now, I think you all may enjoy a recent blog post I read by ag economist Jayson Lusk. Titled, “Who are you calling food insecure?” Lusk examines how we measure hunger in the United States and leaves us with the troubling question - are there more food insecure people than we think or are the projections simply offer insights about consumer perceptions about the cost of food?
Lusk writes, “Food insecurity is measured by the U.S. Census Bureau asking a large sample of nationally-representative U.S. households a series of 10 questions (plus an additional 8 questions if there are children in the household) like how often, ‘In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry, but didn't eat, because you couldn't afford enough food?’ or how often ‘I couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.’”
“A score is then calculated based on the frequency with which people respond affirmatively to the questions. If the score is high enough, the household is deemed food insecure. Seen in this way, food insecurity is probably best interpreted as a measure of a household’s perception of food affordability, although it almost surely positively correlated with hunger.”
As the next 40 days unfolds, and I prepare for Easter, I think addressing hunger in my own community will be top of mind and something I will become more actively engaged with in the future. A day of fasting hardly gives insights into how a child might feel when the cupboards are bare and there’s no food in sight, but a grumbling stomach is a good reminder to be empathetic about families who may be going through difficult times.
There’s always something we can do to help.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.