My sophomore year of college I got roped into helping with an honors project our Phi Theta Kappa chapter was putting together. Now, I say roped in because I was the kind of chapter member who really only attended the first meeting of the year and from there on out pretty much just scanned the meeting notes sent out in the mass email a week later.
Arriving at our very first planning meeting, I was intrigued to hear we were taking on a hunger project. Some dear friends of mine from Brazil had expressed their initial shock upon first arriving in the United States by the amount of food wasted. And so our project began.
To summarize, the project had three parts: research, writing, and campaign. Research was mostly hands on as we surveyed students, along with gathering and physically measuring food waste from the cafeteria. From there we compiled the data, facts (did you know there are rules governing cafeteria portion sizing?), and research into a massive group paper. Armed with the information and data we had gathered, our group then launched an awareness campaign of sorts. This campaign was multi-faceted, but it is also where I found my biggest niche in the project. I took on the task of preparing rhetoric (flyers, table tents, etc) to be used within our campaign.
Throughout this project, I had the privilege of working with friends and fellow students from around the globe including compatriots from South America, Africa, and Asia. It became a very personal project as they each shared their own hunger story, and I began an inner dialogue that dissected the question of just what my hunger story was.
Here’s a portion of what I‘ve found out so far. When I think about growing up and all the pieces that have played into my hunger story, what hunger means to me, my very first thoughts go to summer nights and dinner at my grandparents. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents throughout my childhood and was very fortunate to have them just across town, ready and willing for me to visit anytime I pleased. My grandparents had two gardens. The smaller, located in the backyard was for summer night dinners, and the larger, located several blocks from their home and covering the area of what would be a house plot, was for winter. Summers were filled with afternoons spent wandering rows of corn, watering plants, picking heads of cabbage, and just about every other detail that made the garden grow; any afternoon that I didn’t find my grandpa in the garden, I found him inside canning and freezer prepping vegetables to be stored for the winter.
The second part of this memory can be found around the dinner table. I wasn’t necessarily a picky eater as a child, but I just didn’t eat much. There was almost always food left on my plate. Without fail, when I said that I was too full to finish, my grandpa would respond that there are starving children right up the road who don’t have enough to eat so I should finish what I do have. Now, to be honest this was always a very perplexing thought because if they were just up the road and I had hot food on my plate, why in the world were we not walking it down the road and giving it to them.
Looking back, I understand grandpa was tipping his hat to what I have come to know as the war on hunger. He fought it in his own way–making me aware being an example. Every summer, without fail, an old wooden card table with a cardboard, black marketed sign boasting free vegetables goes up in my grandpa’s front yard. Every morning a portion of the previous day’s harvest is placed out to share. By noon, the table is empty and left to wait for the next day’s lot. Grandma once told me that most of the people she saw pick up the food were neighborhood kids. Kids who wouldn’t have healthy food, especially vegetables, on their table normally.
My grandparents paved the way and laid the foundation for my hunger story. They taught me two willing hands and an open dialogue can go along way in solving even the biggest problems we face.