Yesterday afternoon, before dinner was ready, my husband asked if I could bring him a snack while he watched our daughter. He received a handful of salt and vinegar chips, some tortilla chip dust from the bottom of the bag, a single slice of dried mango, and a half melted and refrozen popsicle (not shaped like a rocket, more like a fruity puddle on a stick). Why?
About a week ago, we embarked on a social experiment, prompted by my listening to an audiobook by Jeff Shinabarger called More or Less, discussing the idea of “enough.” In each area of life, he begs the questions, “What is enough?” How much is enough food? How stuffed is a full enough closet? What is enough house or space to live in?
In the First World West, we generally gloss over this thought process with other hurried ideas. But in much of the Global South, the idea is constantly on the mind…did my kids get “enough” food today to make it to another day?
Living richly can’t happen at the expense of someone else—that may be living with riches, but not living with richness. As I spend the year looking at what this means, I can’t help but think it has something to do with global stratification and living alongside brothers and sisters who daily live without any richness, let alone riches.
So as I listened to this book, I started grappling with our own family’s food narrative, and praying for global hunger. A passage in the Old Testament came to mind…not the one where Joseph saves his family and the Egyptians from famine, not even the one where God provides manna in the dessert for the escaping Israelites, a tiny little passage about a slave girl named Hagar.
The story goes that Abraham was promised a son. He and his wife Sarah were both “well on in years” (older than dirt), so they hatched a plan, not believing God’s will for them. Sarah “gave” Abraham her Egyptian slave girl to have his way with, and nine months later Ishmael was born. Needless to say, Sarah and Hagar didn’t get along after this point—jealousy on one end and resentment on the other. I really don’t see how they didn’t see that one coming. The plan seems half-baked at best, and horrific if you pause long enough to think it through.
Well when God does provide a son, Isaac, for Abraham and Sarah, Sarah wants Ishmael and Hagar gone yesterday. So Abraham, feeling a bit of compassion for his son, loads her up with a sack of water and some bread and ditches her in the desert. She wanders about in the wilderness until the bread and water dissipate into nothingness, and then she “casts the child under one of the bushes” and “sits down…a good way off,” so that she doesn’t have to look on the death of her child. Then she cries out to God in anger, tears, and woe.
I have read this story many times in different ways and through different lenses. But I had never thought of it from the perspective of being a mother watching your only child wither up and die of hunger and thirst.
What would you do? Would you search whole-heartedly until you found food and water or died trying? Would you cast your child off away from you so you didn’t have to watch? Would you try to breastfeed him (even though he was weaned) and give him every ounce of your very self, until the last drop ran dry? I don’t know what I would do! I cannot ponder a more tragic thought as I sit in an air-conditioned home, with my beautiful daughter, comfortable in her pack n’ play, well-fed and fast asleep.
And yet, this narrative isn’t just an ancient biblical one…this is the story of today, this is the plight of the “rest” of the world, this is precisely what happens daily to approximately 815 million people worldwide who are chronically “undernourished.” It’s so easy to slap a number on the issue, resign it as a statistic, and remove ourselves from the problem. It is much more difficult to really think about because 1-what can we really do? and 2-the problem looms so large and overwhelming that it cripples even the greatest philanthropists.
But when I think about a single mom somewhere watching her only child slowly die a preventable and excruciating death of hunger or thirst, I think of God watching God’s only Son die a preventable and excruciating death.
When I think of individuals instead of numbers, I see a person…and it is much more difficult to turn a blind eye to a person.
What can I do? I have been grappling through this question for a few weeks now—suddenly all too aware every time I take a bite, that somebody somewhere cries out in pangs of hunger as I sit sufficiently stuffed.
Before I risk drowning you in the quicksand of guilt alongside me, let me posit that there may be a solution. And at very least, there are things we can do now that make a difference.
1-Awareness: To embark on personal awareness of how the rest of the world lives, Shinabarger suggests an “enough” experiment on food. Grant and I have decided to do this experiment with some adaptation. We are trying to shop our shelves and cleanse our freezers for a month without shopping for food. During that time we will continue to get a box of veggies (each week) and a dozen eggs (once during the month) from our farm share. But we plan to not eat out and not grocery shop, just utilizing what we have.
In More or Less, the author did this with his wife, thinking that they might have a month worth of food just in storage in their house when much of the world (about 1 in 9) people are “food insecure” (do not know where the next meal is coming from). I think with the fresh produce we get already each week, we will probably last much more than a month.
Some of you might be gagging that this is such a “First World” thing to do, while others might be feeling that this is an absurdly radical way to live out an experiment. Maybe you are both right! The zucchini glue with tahini sludge that I just made for lunch could fall into either category…
During this time, we will be living life like normal, which for us includes quite a bit of hosting and entertaining. We love going to the family cottage on days off and we love hosting dinner parties. So, this necessarily means subjecting some of our friends and family to freezer burn and wildly creative meals. One of the things we agreed on up front was to be generous with our food during this time as well, not to hoard, or keep it all to ourselves. We will see how it goes!
2-Prayer: The second thing we are doing through this time is pondering and praying for global hunger. We have witnessed the power of prayer in action, both in big and small ways. There have been times when we have seen God act in powerful ways through prayer. And there have been times when God has changed our hearts through prayer.
3-Action: I would like to see an end to global hunger in my lifetime.
This is not impossible. People question a God who would allow people to suffer, to die of hunger or thirst in an unfair world. And I understand that. But I don’t think this one is on God. There is enough food in the world.
Current production of food shows that there is enough for everyone to eat and be satisfied. The issue is distribution and global stratification—some hoard, while others have not; some get fat, while others starve; some continue to take, while others produce.
I do not have an answer…but I do have a blog—a place where issues can be brought to the surface and where discourse happens, where people can comment and brainstorm new ideas. No idea is off limits, or too ridiculous to write. PLEASE leave a comment! Write down an idea for ending hunger. Perhaps in all of our crazy ideas, something helpful might emerge.
*I realize that this is idealistic and that there are considerable limits and multi-faceted issues surrounding hunger: apathy, selfishness, heat, drought, overuse of land, overpopulation, issues surrounding genetically modified foods being tested on the poor, large corporate farming practices that decrease sustainability for future generations, pests wiping out crops, systemic and governmental human rights abuses, and infrastructure problems to name a few. I just want to start a dialogue and brainstorm some possible steps to end hunger.
I will start with a few seemingly ridiculous ideas to get it started so nothing feels off-limits…Thank you for joining in the conversation!