Recently my brother and I were talking about how we don’t like to waste food, even if we buy something new and don’t like it, we will either eat it or find someone to give it to. For whatever reason, we can’t find it in ourselves to just dump it down the drain or throw it in the garbage. My brother said that he offered his neighbor a snack that he did not find appealing, except during starvation possibly, because she is an elementary teacher and always has snacks on hand for her students (that she pays for herself, of course). She said, definitely, she would take them because she has students who are “food insecure.” Food insecure? I asked. What is that? It sounded like some type of eating disorder or social anxiety problem in which you feel insecure about eating in front of others. My brother was questioning too. It turns out that we are both naive to the world’s problems. She told him that “food insecure” means that they don’t have enough to eat, and possibly don’t know when the next meal will be or from where.
I looked into the term and the USDA labels it this way:
- Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
- Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake
My brother and I were surprised. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the middle of Silicon Valley. We thought, there are starving kids here? This neighbor teaches in a district that is definitely not in a desired neighborhood of the Los Altos hills, but still, we didn’t realize that there are “food insecure” kids so nearby. That suddenly made it “real” for my brother. Before it seemed like some floating idea that happened to people “somewhere else.” Sure, we can read the statistics; we know there are hungry kids out there, even in the U.S., but it didn’t seem so real until he talked to someone who was experiencing it firsthand in her classroom.
Why is that? That got us questioning about how we unconsciously distance ourselves from the reality of painful things. Granted, we were ignorant to knowing about the legitimately distressed kids in the neighborhood. We thought that happened in bigger cities with more poverty, but it still wasn’t “real” until now. I pointed out the many other things we do that with – how many times do we hear about a bombing in the Middle East, but we don’t have a strong reaction to it any more. On one hand, we have heard about so many bombings over there, almost on a daily basis, that we have become desensitized to it. But, on the other hand, it is so far away, and we are so removed from it, that we can’t really understand the reality of living with the idea of getting bombed on a shopping trip to pick up tonight’s dinner. And it doesn’t have to be with something as drastic as bombings, think about wives getting beaten, children sexually abused, animals left to starve and die – it happens all the time unfortunately, probably somewhere nearby, and we know it does, but we distance ourselves from the reality of it. We don’t go looking for the facts of these horrible things, we just know they are there, and try our best to not think about it until we have to, or until something moves us to look closer and do something about it.
For my brother’s part, he knows where his unwanted snacks can go, and he’ll also throw something extra in his cart at the store to give to his neighbor. Now that he knows, and the realness is there, he is choosing to do something about it, instead of hiding from the reality of it. I live two hundred miles away, but have started wondering about how many kids near me are hungry at school today…