Mom on the Run: Hunger not what it seems

Advocate staff photo by BETH COLVINChicken Soup is a warming recipe that can accommodate whatever veggies you have on hand.
Advocate staff photo by BETH COLVINChicken Soup is a warming recipe that can accommodate whatever veggies you have on hand.

BY BETH COLVIN

Assistant Food editor

It’s like a snake eating its tail.

I would say it’s a vicious cycle, but that’s cliche and vicious isn’t the right word.

Hunger doesn’t violently rend its victims into shreds. It slowly dissolves a person from the inside out, working over mental and physical health in a grinding, deliberate process that’s as difficult to comprehend as it is to get out of.

Let’s start here: The image you probably have in your mind of people who are hungry is wrong.

Food insecurity in Louisiana can be, but largely isn’t, groups of gaunt people in tattered clothes or children with swollen bellies. It’s not Third World, yet.

To get a more clear image, look in the mirror. The food insecure — that’s the new term, by the way — look just like me and you.

They have jobs. They drive cars. They go to work, smile at you all day, then return to a house empty of food.

They are the elderly people in your church, the children in your schools and could be your co-workers and neighbors.

Talking to experts around the region, the same topics come up.

Education, generations of poverty, health issues, pride. Then the scarier words, like children, elderly and dying.

Hunger is a problem as dark and hidden as the inside of an empty cupboard.

Especially for those vulnerable populations, like the elderly who take pride in being self-sufficient and the children who can’t speak up for themselves.

The more light we shed on it, the scarier it can get. The problem of food insecurity quickly becomes one of chickens and eggs, pardon the pun. Do we teach people how to eat better or just give them food, then worry about teaching them nutrition?

Do we need more stores first or better transportation systems? If we find fresh foods, how do we get it there? Does the school or church have the resources to prepare it? Will people eat it?

Can people cook it? Can they get to it? What if it comes to them? Does anyone have the resources to do that? How do we prevent abuse? Can we prevent abuse?

The questions are overwhelming. The problem is overwhelming. But we can’t stop trying to fix it.

There’s no silver bullet, no quick solution. Each solution brings a new set of questions and a new set of problems. And all of them cost money no one seems to have.

It’s not up to just the government, just the churches or just the food banks. The only sure thing about food insecurity is that it’s up to all of us. Working together.

Even if you, like me, are lucky enough to know where your next meal is coming from, food insecurity is still your problem.

You and I, for example, pay for health care for people who are sick because they didn’t get enough of the right things to eat through taxes, insurance premiums and other health care costs.

We also pay for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, which is the new word for food stamps, and other government-run food programs.

We pay for it when classrooms of children can’t learn because they’re focused instead on the gnawing hunger in their stomachs, potentially depriving them of opportunities at a life where food is a given.

It happens. Here. Today. Now. It’s happening.

We’re a hardy lot, Louisianans. We’ve overcome challenges that would’ve stymied a lesser people.

Let’s tackle this one. Together.

Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at bcolvin@theadvocate.com.