Greece: Is it a Cautionary Tale?
Schoolchildren in Athens Greece, 2007. Photo by flickr user Tran's World Productions.
By Robin Stephenson
The stories of hunger out of Greece are heartbreaking. It is not as if poverty and child hunger is something new, but recent reports of children in Athens picking through trash cans for their school lunches are shocking—perhaps because the country's fall from relative prosperity has taken just five years or perhaps because children eating from trash cans is simply a perversion of God’s will.
When I think of Greece, I think of families around dinner tables crammed with savories like spinach-stuffed pastry with salty chunks of feta cheese and fragrant bread dripping with thick olive oil—everyone showing love while sharing food.
But the reality for many Greeks today is scarcity—unemployment rates of 27 percent leave dwindling options for many families. As reported in the New York Times, the new image of Greece, filtered through a shroud of austerity where pasta and ketchup are the evening meal, is an inversion of the country's rich cultural heritage, a good deal of which is linked to food. The garbage can is now the table for some it seems.
I have written previously that austerity as an answer to plummeting economies has failed in the past, bringing only vicious cycles of decline as it ignores the complexities of the root causes of poverty. Well-constructed safety nets make it easier to rebound in better times.
Current proposals in the U.S. Congress call for measures of austerity from the most vulnerable populations – those measures include crippling the safety net with disproportionate cuts, as the House Budget Resolution would do if implemented.
When the cupboard at home is empty, Greek children, not unlike American students, go to school hungry. There is no succor for the hunger pangs of the Greek child—no school lunch if her family can’t provide it. In the United States, by contrast, children from low-income families have access to subsidized lunch, a resource we provide with our tax dollars. Not every child is reached and child hunger is still a problem in this country, but our nation made a moral choice and decided that having healthy children is an American value— at least for now.
The economy in the United States is not in free fall, as it is in Greece. We have an opportunity to improve our economy if our members of Congress will come together and act. We can still make sensible choices, such as replacing the sequester and reducing the deficit by balancing cuts with slight increases in revenue, thereby protecting policies and programs that reduce poverty.
The U.S. narrative coming out of the recession has been this: our safety net has worked. During a period of increased unemployment and underemployment in America, food insecurity has remained relatively stable as poverty has risen. The worst decision our nation could make is to abandon effective programs that make it easier to recover.
The future will be complex, but the image of an abundant table contrasted with children searching for scraps gives me pause. God’s vision of a world where all have a place at the table requires the political will to make our children’s health a moral priority. The stories out of Greece remind us that the choices we are making today can change our story tomorrow.
Act today and tell Congress to make the right choice for tomorrow.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
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