The Common Good

Hunger

No Turning Away, or Back, After Seeing '12 Years a Slave'

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.

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From Numbness to Action: Ending World Hunger

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.

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How House Republicans Are Preaching A False Gospel About Food Stamps

Date: September 25, 2013
Cramer’s sloppy theology is only the latest in a series of attempts by Republican House members to use the Bible to justify cutting programs that help feed the poor. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) also cited the 2 Thessalonians passage to support cutting SNAP at a hearing in May, a move that was widely condemned by religion writers, Tennessee faith leaders, and faith-based activists such as Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group.

Christian Leaders Oppose SNAP Cuts

Date: September 19, 2013
“These immoral cuts are incongruent with the shared values of our nation,” Wallis added in a letter Sept. 9. “They demonstrate the triumph of political ideology and self-interest over sound public policy and concern for the general welfare.”

Advocates Speak Out About SNAP

Date: September 17, 2013
‘You go after the poorest people because you think that’s safe? We’ll make that politically unsafe for you.’ This is wrong, it’s hypocrisy, and it should not be done."

Is SNAP Congress’ New Hunger Games?

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.
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Food and Climate Change: The Perfect Penance

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.

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In the Richest Country in the World, 1 in 4 Struggle to Afford Food

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?

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Anesthetics and Advocates Below the Poverty Line

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.

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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).

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The Teaching of Empathy

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.

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