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Eating the Seed Corn

In the old days, when a community produced its entire food supply, the hungriest month wasn't in the dark of winter, but in July, in full summer, when the winter's stores were gone and the new grain crops not yet harvested. Lammas was a feast of abundance to relieve a time of hunger, for people who'd been living surrounded by food they couldn't eat. The act of sharing food literally kept body and spirit together.

These days, most hungry Americans live surrounded by food we can't eat — on TV, billboards, restaurant signs. We're hungry because we don't have money to buy food, or our food stamps got cut off, or we had to choose between food and medicine, or we chose to feed a child or a cat instead of ourselves.

Some of us are hungry because we aren't eating. We're dieting, to look better, to diminish self-hate. Or we're trying to heal from or avoid disease. Or we're temporarily stuck somewhere without food that is kosher or halal or vegan.

Others are hungry because what we're eating doesn't nourish us. Or we're afraid to eat because of toxins, engineered foods, additives, the FDA's abandonment of its responsibilities.

An adult who's healthy to start with can go 40 days without food. But it hurts and hurts. For a child, the damage is faster and devastates brain, body, and spirit.

The U.N. world hunger map color-codes the severity of hunger, due to both natural and unnatural disasters. The U.S. looks good, only 2.5% — until you figure out that means 7.5 million hungry people. In Afghanistan, the percentage is 70%; about 15.3 million hungry people.

In pioneer diaries of the West, the most desperate act of hunger was to eat the seed corn. A starving family would share out the hard kernels, knowing they were destroying their hope for the coming season. In allowing others to starve, we are eating the seed corn of our species.

So what can we do? Even as a kid, I knew that the leftovers on my plate weren't going to do the starving Armenians any good, no matter what my grandmother said.

Here are some ideas I'm trying to follow to keep body and spirit together these days:

Click the hunger site button every day. The advertisers contribute based on site visitors' clicks. In 2006, the advertisers paid for just under 6 million pounds of food. Back in 2000, the total was nearly 21 million. Clicks make the difference.

Contribute to local food pantries and international aid, but research them first. For example, I was initially drawn to the Hunger Project because it seemed woman-focused, but I've since read that its administrative costs are high and that none of its money is used directly for feeding people.

Shrink our ecological footprint regarding food:

Cook from basic ingredients and make our own freezer-meals.
Avoid highly-priced, -processed and -packaged foods.
Buy local food in-season.
Buy pasture-fed, free-range, and organic if we can find and afford it.

Feed the people we know who are out of work, struggling to make the rent, working two jobs, unable to cook for themselves because of injuries, illness or disability. Send them home with leftovers.

Respect other people's food ethics, needs, and issues.

Celebrate the food we eat, every day. Honor the sources, growers, cooks. Trust the outcome.

Graphics Credits

  • seed corn, courtesy of Jay Simons
  • receiving hands, courtesy of Tracy Stansel
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