Putting a Spotlight on Relieving Hunger; Fast Brings Home Difficulty Many People Face
By Leota Ester
For four Mondays before Easter, I joined about 30,000 others, including 28 of our congressmen and women who pledged to fast for 24 hours.
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I'd never fasted before. I've thought about it. A friend of mine used to fast every Monday just because it made him feel better. I'd heard over the years that when one fasts, one thinks more clearly, is focused and alert. But I like to eat and had never seriously considered doing it.
David Beckmann, World Food Prize laureate, is president of Bread for the World, a nonprofit faith organization dedicated to ending hunger in our country and around the world by influencing decisions made by our Congress. He and leaders from 40 faiths — including Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, evangelical and others — led a fast for four weeks. Their stated purpose was to discern how to influence our representatives to provide for the poorest among us in the budget decisions and to draw attention to our moral priorities.
They also wanted to call attention to what it means to be hungry. While Beckmann and the others fasted for four weeks from sunrise to sunset, they invited all of us to join them in some type of fasting, be it by missing lunches for the four weeks, fasting one day a week (my choice), or fasting from a desired habit such as watching television.
So when they invited us to join them, I did.
I didn't enjoy it. All of us have at one time or another been too busy to stop for meals, had things on our minds that made us forget to eat, but we snatched a bite, forced ourselves to "get some nourishment" and ate whether we thought about it or not. We were not forced into hunger, nor were we fasting.
Going without any food for 24 hours is hard. They became long days. I cleaned bookshelves, read bits and pieces from any number of books, watched the clock, wrote e-mails, phoned friends, looked at the clock and vacuumed, but the day dragged on.
I looked at the refrigerator, again noted the time and how slowly it passed, tried to justify eating just a little to "carry me over." It seemed endless.
During those times, I thought a lot about how those who are hungry can function day after day. How, I wondered, could they concentrate or learn anything if they were sitting in a classroom hungry?
How could anyone function well at a job, not make mistakes, if gnawing hunger were always with them? How could parents teach their kids manners, how to pay attention, to get along with others, when the family is hungry? How could they not fight with one another?
We know that babies' brains can't develop well without proper nourishment from birth through their early years. They often become the slow learners, trouble-makers, difficult adults. The costs of later issues far outweigh providing basic food through programs such as WIC and SANE, known to us as food for pregnant moms and babies and food stamps.
When Congress suggests a cap at present levels, it fails to allow for those who newly fall into difficulty feeding their families and themselves through loss of jobs, aging, illness.
Our national budget for hunger programs is a tiny portion of the overall budget for the military, Social Security and Medicare programs. Those of us in our 80s and above think little about the cost of a hip replacement, heart repair, shoulder surgery, etc., and while we shouldn't have to suffer pain in our later years, we might want to consider how much money goes to us compared to the money spent on those, young and old, who are hungry.
We, above all, should urge our congressmen and women to support those needs as well as ours.
I grew up poor on a farm in Kansas during both the depression and the drought and dust storms of the '20s. We wore underwear made of feed sacks, had only a couple of dresses, often hand-me-downs, and no radio or television. But we were never hungry.
We ate garden vegetables, canned fruit, eggs, chickens we grew, and topped this off with homemade bread and applesauce, maybe a pie. Those days are gone, but not our parents' knowledge that the first basic need is for healthy food.
And while needs abound from all directions, none is more basic nor essential than regular nourishment from vegetables and fruits, milk, grains and protein.
From a healthy beginning, we become the citizens our country and world needs — those who contribute, solve problems and serve.
We must tell our congressmen and women this is so and insist they support the sound programs that prevent hunger.
Bread for the World Member and Activist
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