In his first Advent address, Pope Francis directed Christians to be guided by the “Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise for the coming Christ child. She proclaims that God has “lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). This past Tuesday, Pope Francis heeded his own exhortation by releasing a video message calling for an end to hunger as part of a worldwide “wave of prayer.”
Hundreds of Christian organizations across the globe participated in the “wave of prayer,” which was organized by Caritas International, a confederation of Catholic charities in the Vatican.
“We are in front of a global scandal of around 1 billion people who still suffer from hunger today,” Pope Francis said in his message. “We cannot look the other way.” The wave began at noon on the Pacific island of Samoa and proceeded west with people of faith from each subsequent time zone participating at noon their time.
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
Many of us are blessed enough to not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients for a healthy life. But now, millions of our brothers and sisters here in the United States may, sadly, be facing these situations because of a reduction in their food stamp benefits.
Starting Friday, all households receiving food stamp benefits will see their food budgets shrink as a temporary increase expires. A family of four could lose up to $36 a month in food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).
Before I saw the new film 12 Years A Slave, I knew nothing about Solomon Northrop or his astounding story of courage, forbearance, and faith.
I’d never heard of Northrop, an African-American freeman, who was born and reared in upstate New York in the early 1800s, well before the abolition of slavery in the rest of the nation. I’d not known of the historical practice of kidnapping freeborn black Americans in the North and selling them into slavery in the South.
I’d never heard about how Northrop, an accomplished violinist, was bamboozled into traveling from his farm in Hebron, N.Y., where he lived a prosperous life with his wife and three children, to Washington, D.C., for work, but was drugged, kidnapped, and sold in Louisiana. I’d never heard how he remained for a dozen years before heroically regaining his freedom in 1853 — one of a very few kidnapped freemen and freewomen ever to regain their freedom.
My child ate today. Breakfast was pancakes and sausage.
Walking to school I said, “If you don’t like the leftover hamburger that I put in your lunchbox, just buy something from the cafeteria. You have plenty of money in your account.”
Tonight we will have tacos, but if I am too tired to cook, we will order pizza.
I am grateful that I can feed my child every day.
House leaders are proposing a massive cut to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), America’s frontrunner in combatting hunger. This new proposal consists of a $40 billion reduction in funding, and SNAP households across the board would be feeling the pinch beginning as soon as November.
Potential cuts reveal stark and sobering statistics that millions of Americans would face:
- The average benefit per person, per meal would decrease to below $1.40, dangerously low to maintain the minimum standards of a healthy diet;
- 210,000 kids would be cut from free school meals;
- SNAP cuts would be the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month from a four-person household; and
- 170,000 veterans would lose out on food benefits.
As a nutrition student in college, I paid attention to the food we would eat on campus and became keenly aware of how much plastic and material was used and disposed of because of the way our food was packaged. It upset me to see so much packaging thrown in the trash every day. I raised concerns with the Dining Services committee and became a staunch advocate for a better recycling program on campus.
That was my first foray into understanding the relationship between the food system and environmental concerns and their consequent impact on health – something that became a much larger part of my life upon graduation, when I read the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and joined a network of dietitians focused on Hunger & Environmental Nutrition.
The more I read and learned, the more I came to understand the sobering facts about the impacts that our industrial food system has on our society. Power in agriculture has become more and more concentrated over the past several decades, leading to many “monocrops” – large swaths of land devoted to growing only one type of crop rather than a diversity of crops that keeps fields vibrant and healthy. We’ve seen unprecedented extinction of species as a result. Artificial fertilizers lead to soil runoff, nitrous oxide emissions, and pesticides polluting our waterways.
The United States is the richest country in the world, but only three-quarters of Americans have enough to eat.
New data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly a quarter of Americans had trouble putting food on the table last year — 24 percent is a lot of hungry people in the richest country in the world. It’s not normal, either – most other advanced economies had much lower rates of hunger. We think that the U.S. economy is similar to that of Canada or Britain; our hunger rate is closer to that of Indonesia, South Korea, or Greece.
Numbers like that are shocking, because we prefer to think of ourselves in nationalistic terms. “The richest, most powerful country on Earth” definitely makes us feel better than realizing that things aren’t so great for many of us. One in four of us is hungry.
We don’t like to think about this, but we aren’t doing so well by a lot of standards. Last month, UNICEF published a report on child wellbeing in developed countries. The United States was ranked 26 out of 29, above Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania. Our children were doing worse than those of Greece.
Is this really where we want to be?
By definition, an anesthetic is a drug used to relieve pain (analgesia), relax (sedate), induce sleepiness (hypnosis), spark forgetfulness (amnesia), or to make one unconscious for general anesthesia. Anesthetics are generally administered to induce or maintain a state of anesthesia and facilitate a procedure. I believe that anesthetic can be employed as a striking image for particular deficiencies in faith-based responses to extreme poverty.
As one can cite many examples where faith is proclaimed and practiced solely as an escape from – rather than engagement with – the numerous struggles associated with impoverishment, we recognize that anesthesia is incomplete without corresponding acts of sustainable social surgery.
A practical way to serve within the tension of anesthetic and advocate is to experience a small portion of life below the poverty line. The World Bank sets extreme poverty as below $1.50 per day, and I plan to stand in solidarity by attempting to eat on less than $1.50 per day over the course of five days (Monday – Friday).
The announcement was broadcast at the end of the day over the school’s public address system.
"Our Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 is ... Mr. Barton. Congratulations!"
I walked out into the third-grade hallway where students were lined up for dismissal. Little hands reached up and patted me on the shoulder. Small voices joined together and called out, "We're proud of you, Mr. Barton!" Alondra, a quiet student, pulled me close and said, "Thank you for being my reading teacher." I was honored and humbled.
As I walked back into my classroom, I reflected over my five years teaching at this Title I elementary school. "Who am I, what have I done, to become Teacher of the Year?" I asked myself.
“I believe the sequester is a pittance.”
Those were conservative Sen. Rand Paul’s words in an opinion piece this week about the sequester – severe and arbitrary cuts to the federal budget that Congress did nothing to stop. We could give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he hasn’t seen the numbers:
- The nutrition program for women with children — WIC — will have to turn away 600,000 to 775,000 women, many of whom have young children.
- The 3.8 million currently unemployed workers will have their support cut by 11 percent.
- 100,000 low-income families will lose their housing vouchers.
- 125,000 individuals and families are now at risk of homelessness.
That doesn’t sound like a “pittance” to me.
A new documentary from the producers of Food, Inc. premieres today, serving up the critical problem of rising hunger in the United States with a surprising thesis: we’ve already solved it.
… Forty years ago, that is. A Place at the Table, the newest documentary from Participant Media, reveals how political will in the 1960s and 70s ushered in an era of bipartisan-sponsored, government-funded programs that “nearly solved” the problem of hunger.
Compare that with today, in which 50 million Americans rely on food assistance programs – and nearly one-in-two children will require food assistance in their lifetimes. The stark disparity between then and now begs the question: what happened?
When I go home for Christmas, I always end up pulling out the old Christmas songbook from inside the piano bench and working my way through while my mom cooks dinner. I don’t really read the music as much as I read the chords and play by ear. Good King Wenceslas is a beautiful song musically, but is one of the most fun songs to play because of the never-ending chord changes.
I never really considered what the song was about, being raised in a school system that taught of the tyranny of monarchies and the Revolutionary War. Medieval leaders ruled in an age of knights, castles, and oppressed peasants. But then there was Wenceslas (who I now know was the Duke of Bohemia).
Joey Ekburg, Executive Director of the North Park Friendship Center, was never one to mince words. “We pay almost twice the amount for food, and we have more clients than ever before.” It took awhile for the words to sink in and the math to play out in my head. I was never great at math, but the implications were pretty obvious.
I looked over at the people sitting near the entrance, waiting to pick up food to make it through the week. I wondered what would happen if this food pantry were to run out of food or if the unthinkable were to happen — the Friendship Center suddenly shutting its doors.
The Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago has served as an entry point for generations of immigrant families, including my own. Many of them come to America looking for a fresh start. Sometimes that search becomes reduced to finding a fresh meal.
Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE. From part one:
6. The Poor
Value: The poor — above all those without adequate food or shelter — deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)
Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).
Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be?
Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?
Peacemaking happens in many forms. Sometimes peace is offered to others, and sometimes given in unexpected ways.
It was early morning. The African sun had yet to rise above the mountains, and the sky was the soft yellow of newly shucked corn.
“Beep, beep,” sounded the horn on the old truck as it rumbled to a stop in front of my house. My old friends – Momadu, Madu, and Balamusa – greeted me with smiles, waves, and morning blessings.
We were on our way from Kenieba, a small town in western Mali, to Sitaxoto, a large village about two hours away over a broken dirt road.
A church was there, a little group of people who met each week outside under a big baobab tree to pray, study the Bible, share their stories and ask, “How do we follow Jesus?”
Food assistance programs have been helping millions of people get through the recession. With poverty remaining at record high levels, we should be grateful that these resources are available to protect families from hunger.
Unfortunately, some of our nation’s elected officials see it differently. New legislation (H.R 6518) introduced by Congressman Paul Broun and members of the Republican Study Committee targets some of the very programs designed to protect the most poor and vulnerable. Under the proposed legislation, six food programs administered by the federal government would be combined into a single block grant to states.
Does that sound like Washington slang? What it means is that spending on food programs would be dramatically reduced, administration of these programs would be shifted to state governors, and benefit level would likely vary from state to state. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Emergency Food Assistance (TEFAP) would be threatened by this legislation.
It’s the time of year when various government agencies release their reports for the previous year, in this case, 2011. The annual report on poverty is due from the Census Bureau next week, and, according to AP, early reports are that
“The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security. (If you want all the detailed statistical tables, here is the full report.) Not surprisingly, the results showed a growing number people in the U.S. going hungry. 17.9 million households (14.9 percent of households) were “food insecure.” That means at some point during the year, those households did not have enough food due to lack of money. Of those, 6.8 million households (5.7 percent of households and one-third of all food-insecure households) had “very low food security.” That means at some point during the year, some household members went hungry. According to their answers on the survey, these folks reported that “the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more,” and that “an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food.”
It is hardly the time to reduce assistance to hungry families, but as McClatchy News noted,
“The survey data comes as congressional Republicans … push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.”
Without programs such as SNAP (food stamps) school lunches, the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program; there would be many more food insecure families in America.
Here’s the data in a helpful infographic from McClatchy.
I don’t mind failing as much as I do admitting I’ve failed. And technically, we haven’t blown the SNAP Challenge just yet, but I know for a fact we will by the end of the week.
I went to the store last night for another loaf of bread and a frozen pizza for dinner, which I had promised my kids if they’d make it to mid-week without freaking out. This brought us down to eighteen bucks and change left in the till, which theoretically was going to be enough to fill in the gaps for other items we’d need to do our meals through the weekend.
And then reality hit.
I’m not making friends among my family members with this challenge.
Because it was my idea to do this for a week (living on the equivalent budget of food stamps for seven days), everyone ends up coming to me to “check on the rules.” Basically, this means they ask me about ways they might work around the limitations of the challenge, and then get mad at me when I don’t give them a way out.
Yesterday ended up being a mixed bag. My wife, Amy, and I had to go to the other side of town for some errands, and it didn’t occur to either of us that we’d be gone over lunch time. Fortunately, one of the errands was at an Ikea, a giant housewares store that’s known for it’s affordable cafeteria-style meals, so we made it work. But even with their reduced-rate prices, we spent more than $9 for both of us and little Zoe to eat.
“Man,” I said, looking at my empty bowl, previously filled with pasta and Swedish meatballs, “that was way less than we usually spend going out, but it was still almost double what we have in the budget for one meal.”