The Common Good

The Justice of Eating

“… Hunger feels like pincers,
like the bite of crabs;
it burns, burns, and has no fire.
Hunger is a cold fire.
Let us sit down soon to eat
with all those who haven't eaten;
let us spread great tablecloths,
put salt in the lakes of the world,
set up planetary bakeries,
tables with strawberries in snow,
and a plate like the moon itself
from which we can all eat.

For now I ask no more
than the justice of eating.”

—Excerpt from “The Great Tablecloth,” by Pablo Neruda

Many of us may not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients to live a healthy life. Poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda captures this feeling well in his poem “The Great Tablecloth.” Just before the holidays, millions of Americans learned what some aspect of hunger felt like as they saw a reduction in their SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits.

On Nov. 1, every SNAP household saw its grocery budget reduced when an $11 billion cut went into effect — the equivalent of 10 million food stamp meals a day. And the program isn’t out of the woods yet. The House and Senate have begun to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs. A compromise proposal expected in the coming weeks could further cut SNAP by as much as $8 billion, at a time when lawmakers need to protect and strengthen it.

SNAP effectively and efficiently helps more than 47 million low-income Americans put food on the table. Even as unemployment and poverty have remained high, the number of families at risk of hunger has not increased since 2008. Contrary to popular belief, the average individual receiving food stamps is on the program for only ten months, until they manage to get back on their feet again.

Forty-nine million Americans live at risk of hunger. Any policies that create additional poverty among the working poor are reprehensible. It is unacceptable for lawmakers to take vital food stamp benefits away from millions of Americans struggling to recover from the ongoing impacts of the recession.

The solution to these problems isn’t complicated. We live in a time when we can end hunger and poverty. This debate is about more than simply balancing our federal budget. It’s about our values as a nation. An organized and active citizenry can affect change.

LaVida Davis is the director of Grassroots Organizing and Capacity Building for Bread for the World , a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s lawmakers to end hunger at home and abroad.

Image: Hands holding rice, imanhakim / Shutterstock.com

This post was featured in Sojourners' monthly Faith in Action newsletter, which you can join by clicking here.

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