What does a Bed and Breakfast have to do with hunger?
Recently, my boyfriend and I were vacationing up in Maine. We were staying at a lovely bed and breakfast and one morning as we were eating blueberry infused frenchtoast (yum!) and looking out the window at a beautiful bay of water the bed and breakfast owner asked us what we did in DC. I dread the question for a few reasons, but for one because you never know what kind of response you're going to get. I say:
"I work for a grassroots anti-hunger advocacy organization - we try to make Congress more responsive to the needs of hungry and poor people."
"Oh" she says. "So what are you working on right now?"
"We're trying to get Congress to commit to cutting hunger in half by 2010 and end it by 2015."
This time she laughs.
"So you're trying to end hunger?"
"Basically" I respond.
"Good luck with that." she retorts.
The next morning, there is another couple also eating breakfast with us (a delicious Finnish pancake this time). They were from South Carolina. The bed and breakfast owner informs them:
"Erin here is trying to end hunger."
In my head I'm thinking, here it goes again. I'M ON VACATION! The husband turns to me and says:
"Seems like you should be working on obesity these days instead of hunger."
Mental groan from me.
"Actually you may be surprised to find out that obesity and hunger are interrelated." (I then go into my obesity spiel - if you want more on the spiel email me and I'll send you BFW's one-pager on the topic.)
I turn back to my food and staring out the window in hopes to have the conversation over simply because, I'M ON VACATION! No such luck! Bed and breakfast owner states:
"Well I just think that before we go spending all this money overseas to other countries we need to take care of our own."
Frustrated I respond less diplomatically:
"There's enough money in the US budget to help reduce poverty in other countries as well as, 'take care of our own.' It's all about what our country sees as its priorities. We choose to spend our money in other areas that may not be as important."
My boyfriend backs me up with a few more comments on this topic. Then nothing is said for a few minutes and I start to think we'll move on to another topic. But no, the woman from South Carolina says:
"It just seems to me that if I were in a situation where I was hungry or poor and I had children that I'd just get out of that situation. I would find another option."
At this point you should probably check my blood pressure because I'm sure it's skyrocketed. Inside my head I'm screaming at her, "that's because you're white and privileged." But my external response was much more calm and diplomatic:
"Well, it's not that easy. You need to realize that when you're struggling to get by, you're spending all of your energy each day just trying to survive. It's not that simple to just say I'm going to get out of this situation and do it. It's not like people that are struggling want to be..."
I don't know what else I said because I was half answering and half trying to get my blood pressure/anger under control. I like to think I'm a pretty calm natured person, but one thing that gets me totally riled up is when people in a position of power and privilege refuse to accept societal problems and just want to place the blame on the individual. Is it because of fear? Did this woman respond the way she did because she didn't want to think that she could be in this situation in the blink of an eye? What is it that makes us just want to turn the other way when we see anything that brings us discomfort?
I hope that my conversation gave this couple and the B&B owner a new perspective on hunger, but I don't know if they were ready to hear it or not. My boyfriend filled out the guest book as we were leaving the B&B and at the end of his nice note he added, "If you'd like to help end hunger go to www.bread.org." Maybe I should see if she's become a member! You never know! This experience only reminded me that we still have a lot of basic education to do for the general American public and that we need to see a shift in our thinking from the individual to community.
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