Thanksgiving. I don't know how many times I moved away from a table, full as I could be with food and fellowship, friendship and renewal. Goodwill abounds with a special sweetness as I offer and accept hugs from friends I've not seen in a year. And the food - always food because it is one of the ways that we express love and connection - is bountiful. Turkey, greens and mac and cheese, gumbo, chicken, ribs, and yams. Not all at one time, to be sure, but there were a lot of folk that put their foot in some pots this thanksgiving weekend.
If I had not already felt fortunate, a report from the Food Research and Action Center puts my bountiful weekend into perspective. While my friends and I ate well, almost 18 percent of Americans said they struggled to afford enough food to feed themselves during the last year. Though the number who are hungry dropped from 18.6 percent a year ago to 17.7 percent now, still one in five Americans cannot afford enough food.
Poor people are the most likely to experience food insecurity, and we know who the poor are. They are African American and Latino; they are very young or very old. They are likely to live in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Georgia or Texas. They depend on federal aid for food stamps and other assistance, and yet this aid is now being considered for cuts by the lame duck Congress.
There are signs that our recession is abating, signs that more money is being spent, that more jobs are being generated. But the unemployment rate is still well over 9 percent, and in the African American community the real unemployment rate may be as high as 28 percent. If the recession is abating, it has not trickled down to the people who are hungry. With projections that unemployment rates may stay high through 2011, the possibility that some people will have enough to eat is bleak.
Our lives are rife with contradictions. Childhood obesity coexists with extreme hunger, and yet childhood obesity is a result of the way that food is priced, the unavailability of healthy food in some neighborhoods, and our failure to provide nutritional education to so many. First Lady Michelle Obama is to be commended for tackling childhood obesity issues. Still, our lives are rife with contradictions and even as there are obesity issues, our youngsters are barraged with advertisement touting fatty, fried, unhealthy food.
The contradictions persist when we see food being discarded in one home while people are hungry in another. It shouldn't take rocket science to connect these homes, and yet connections are so weak that people are managing hunger just steps from places of plenty. What might we do to ensure that the bounty of the season is shared, that we celebrate a holiday season when not a single person goes hungry?
I know dozens of folk who turned out on Thanksgiving Day to share the bounty of the season, serving meals and putting together baskets for the hungry. In Greensboro, our own Bennett professor Rev. Eric Cole's Shalom Community Christian Church fed hundreds; efforts like his happened all over the country. There is a symbolic richness to feeding people on Thanksgiving Day, but who will feed them in February, in April, in June. This end of the year richness and generosity is wonderful and important, yet it is not enough. There are structural reasons that so many are poor, that so many are hungry, that so many are out of work. Even as we manage this recession, there are some who are becoming enriched by the challenges that others face.
The Washington, DC based Food Research and Action Center deserves kudos for the work they do to keep the issue of hunger out front. This is a season when, for so many of us, our cup runneth over with food, with friendship, with energy. Is it possible that we can share the overflow with those who are hungry and needy, by donating to important causes, by rolling our sleeves up and serving food, and, most importantly, by working to change public policy around poverty to ensure that there is more work and that all who work can earn a living wage? If we can't tackle these issues, how can we push back from a full table in good conscience?
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.