A month or so later I was at Book Club and we were deciding what to read next. Carol, always very with-it, had the New York Times Bestseller List. I recognized the top book as the one that had captured my 11-year-old son, the Hunger Games. So even though it was listed as a younger reader book we decided to read it.
I immediately loved the resiliency of the main character - a scrappy gal named Katniss. Over and over, food was symbolic of those who had everything they could possibly want at the touch of a button, the Capitol residents. Those who were willing to risk their lives to feed their families, Katniss and the other residents lived in the Districts. The book is not about food, it is about the ramifications of having too much or not enough, so really it’s about power.
On one hand, there is Katniss walking through the rain, delirious from starvation. She falls down in the backyard of the town baker, sure she will never get up, terrified of what will happen to her family without her to provide for them. Peeta, the baker’s son sees her and purposely burns some of the bread. He receives a beating from his mother but then is ordered to throw the bread to the pigs. Instead he throws it to Katniss, and he saves her for the first time.
On the other hand, there is a scene where Katniss and Peeta are at a gala in the Capitol. They have eaten so much they can’t fit another bite. Some Capitol people tell them about these little glasses of fluid that will help them throw up so they can continue to eat, purely to experience the taste again and again. These Capitol people are just as excessive in their dress, hair color and even skin color, which they dye blue, gold or green to match the latest trend.
Which is closer to what you have? Growing up I knew there were tough times but we always had a freezer full of meat and rows of vegetables my Mother had canned. I have never been hungry, I have only had more than I could ever eat.
This book gets you thinking about our material society in America. We really have so much. Yet we worry about the latest trends, our clothes, our cars, and our food. Yes, even our food is trendy. This made me stop and think, “We are the Capitol.” Our ridiculous views and waste, how are we any different?
As I read, Nathan and I had many conversations. He must have asked 100 times, “Mom, what part are you on now?” I would say, “Ten pages since you asked me last time.” But our best conversation about the book came just before a Book Club meeting. I asked him what he would want to discuss with the ladies. After some thinking he said, “The part I just couldn’t understand was why didn’t the Capitol share? They were so rich, if they could have helped the people in the Districts…they could have made their lives so much better.”
Oh, from the mouths of babes. Why didn’t they just share? And if we are like the Capitol in so many ways, why don’t we just share?
|These packages will be delivered to starving families and |
children by cooperating groups and Feed My Starving Children.
Before Book Club, Molly, a kind-hearted overachiever, had planned a volunteer opportunity for us. To pack meals for an organization called Feed My Starving Children. Basically 50 people, mostly strangers take huge one-ton totes of rice and soy meal, mix in life saving vitamins and minerals and pack it all into family size meals. In two hours we packed meals for 11,880 people. At first you are focused on not messing up your job, but as you get comfortable, it sinks in that all of these people are here to help others, that this food will save lives.
I was thankful for the Hunger Games because Collins, the author, did an excellent job of describing the feeling of desperation that comes with hunger. That understanding fresh in my mind seemed to make the work even more relevant. It felt like we were part of a solution and that we could make a difference. Maybe there is hope, maybe we are not like the Capitol?
While working I struck up a conversation with Alyssa, she was the shift leader, a grad student at Penn State. Her travels to poor countries on various mission trips have inspired a passion in her to find ways to fight poverty. I asked her what people misunderstand about hunger worldwide. She said, “The enormity of world problems can be overwhelming, and many people believe nothing can be changed. But, the world can change one person at a time.” She also said that she feels, “A child starving halfway around the world is as much my responsibility as if they were a member of my family.”
|Donning the hairnets at food packing for Feed My Starving|
Children! That's me on the left and Cassandra the most
energetic volunteer I have ever met.
What I heard was, we need to share, we can make a difference. The book I had read, this experience of packing food and my role as a farmer, became welded together in my mind.
At the Book Club some of the most intelligent and thoughtful women I know discussed the ideas this “teen reader” brought to mind. All but one said they would recommend the book to others. Our wide age range, 24 to 68, contributes various points of view and this discussion was no exception. Themes of poverty, resiliency, waste, desperation, women in leadership, and abuse of power were all discussed. I shared with them my initial concerns that Nathan had read such a gruesome book with such grown-up topics, and how those concerns vanished when we discussed his take-away idea of the selfishness of the Capitol, and his wish that they would have shared their wealth.
His words kept my wheels turning on what this means for Agriculture. We are really good at producing an amazing bountiful crop year after year. We are aware of the challenge ahead of us, feeding more than 9 billion people on our planet by the year 2050. There are only 7 billion on the planet now. We are up to that challenge, but is it enough? There are still people who do not have enough to eat now, even as we produce more year after year. Our bountiful harvest is not reaching people who need it. Many say that is because of poverty, or problems with distribution, or the sheer waste of our system. Whatever reason you cite, the fact remains that worldwide 25,000 people die each day because they do not have enough to eat. We can’t produce our way out of this problem. We need to share. There are real life Hunger Games happening right here in America and around the world. Let’s use this fascination with a trendy book to be a reason to talk about action and to do more ourselves.
Recently I was leading a team meeting at a family dairy farm so I sent out a call for agenda items. To my surprise, three of the four family members sent community outreach ideas. I thought we would talk about milk production and how to get them all a day off from time to time! They have decided to make a plan on how to fight childhood hunger in their hometown of Hillsboro. They are willing to share. Recently you may have heard about a big idea from Howie Buffet, called Invest an Acre. Through this program farmers will be able to donate the proceeds from one acre to help fight hunger. Proceeds will go to the Feeding America program. Could you donate an acre? Could you donate the profit from one day’s milk production? Could you give your time? Can you make a difference one person at a time?
I was wrestling with how this all goes together, when my friend Kara urged me to consider a piece yet missing. She said, “Feed my Starving Children and Feeding America are both well-intentioned programs, but ultimately they replicate, in a much more gentle fashion, the very same power imbalance that is depicted in the Hunger Games. We are still the Capitol, and the poor are still holding out their hands to us for food.”
Kara proposed, “What would an alternative look like where we help the poor feed themselves?” I thought yes, now the analogy feels complete. We need to share not just our food but also our knowledge. For instance, Heifer International gives families livestock so they can feed themselves with the milk and meat. But they are also required to “share the gift” with other families by passing on some of their new breed stock to neighbors. They are not just sharing food, they are sharing power.
So really we need both, to lift people up and make them whole, and then give them the power to feed themselves. We can’t produce our way out of this problem. Those of us with so much, we need to share.
Posted: Agri-View Newspaper, Thursday, May 24, 2012