December 6, 2019

Our Need to Eat & to be Fed is so Human. Don’t Turn Away from It, Please.

We talk about thriving. Let’s talk about surviving.

People cannot survive without food. 

The Trump administration is set to cut 700,000 people from Food Stamps, gutting one of our most essential, social-service programs. 

This hits me right in the guts. Waves of grief, a cry of outrage, and a sense of helplessness that I can only imagine is a whisper amidst the howls of the truly hungry, sticks, thick in my throat and churns in my belly.

Do people not deserve to be fed? Deserve should not even come into it. Food is a basic need. We can survive a few minutes without air, a few days without water, and a few weeks—at best—without food. Yet, according to some estimates by Feeding America, 41 million people are hungry right now and 13 million of those people are children. 

This is not okay. I don’t care how we justify our position, or lack of position, on government social programs, letting people starve is not okay. The arguments I hear in defense of this kind of legislation are as various and as vapid as the excuses we make to avoid our grief. “This doesn’t affect me. I don’t have time. It’s not my problem.” The most common one that hurts me the most is, “Well, I had it hard, and made it without government assistance, on a minimum wage salary.” The unspoken statement here is that the people who can’t are somehow less than those who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. 

The other unfair assumption is that the people who need social assistance are milking the system, are drug addicts and undesirables, criminals, and worst of all—lazy. 

The avoidance of discussing this compassionately disguises a deep sense of terror that dwells within all of us: the fear of not having our needs met. According to the same site I quoted above, one in eight households in a year will not be able to meet their family’s food needs. Count the houses around you right now; there’s about 40 in my little neighborhood, which means five families where I live are most likely experiencing food insecurity right now. 

When people are seen as commodities, compassion is a nuisance. According to a capitalist mentality, if a person is not producing something, they have no value. This is why, in our society, the weak—addicts, wounded, infirm, and mentally unstable—get marginalized and tossed aside, because no, people cannot always be productive, but they still have the right to exist. 

This breaks my heart. Being heartbroken is fundamental to being alive, and those who have shut themselves down—closed themselves off to heartbreak—in their big, secure houses or superior narratives, have shrunken their hearts and their humanity. The world needs our hearts pulsing and feeling.

Pause. Deep breath in—all the way down—fill your lungs, now let them deflate. Soften your belly, drop your shoulders, let your jaw relax. Breathe into your body and be curious about the sensations, memories, and feelings that arise. What do you notice?

I’m feeling waves of grief right now. Not just mine—maybe the world’s. My life is pretty solid, safe, and happy, but in my comfort, I can make space to open to the reality of the people who don’t have enough food, who don’t have a kind heart to lay their weary head against, for everyone who doesn’t feel seen or heard. 

I’ve felt that way many a time. I was on both WIC and Food Stamps when I was in my early 20s. Then, I did not know if I would have enough money to buy my daughter’s diapers. I had a raging drug habit during that period of my life, and none of that made me any less human, or any less worthy of care and respect, or of feeling cherished or important.

Yet, the stress of it all beat me down. On top of my own terrible habits, my then husband and I were in a highly volatile relationship. It is truly awful to feel like you can’t feed yourself or your family. It is truly awful to not know how you are going to get your needs met, and though there are times that I can slip into that mentality now, I can remember—in my belly—the feelings of not being safe, of not having food, or not knowing what the next day might bring. It’s heartbreaking and stressful, sad and dehumanizing. This is too many people’s reality, and it’s just not okay.

I’m taking deep breaths and letting my broken heart bleed for the moment—letting the tears fall—this is part of the process. Heartbreak is so human. Our need to eat and to be fed is so human. Don’t turn away from it, please. 

I had shared part of this post in an online emotional support group I run and, in the comments, a woman (a friend) shared that she and her kids are living out of their van. She does not know where their next meal will come from. My heart breaks for her family and I sit here in my cozy, Pendleton draped chair, my sweet Pug snoring comfortably on the sheepskin beside me, and I am grateful for my own security. I can’t offer her much, some kindness, a small monetary gift. I don’t have a lot of resources, but she has even less. I will not shut my raw, red heart down to her plight. I will not look away. 

I will go to my local food bank and offer some time. I have more time than I have money right now, maybe some have more money than time. Whatever we do have, we can share. It won’t detract from what we have—I promise. When we add to the well-being of another, we truly add to our own well-being. I will share. I will talk about it. I will not be silent in my heartache, in my grief and outrage. 

When I next see someone on the side of the road—sign in hand, asking for money, or for food—I will not avert my eyes. I will give some cash from my not-too-fat, vintage leather, Lucky wallet. I rarely have cash, so I will at the very least look them in the eyes. I will meet our shared humanity. Does this help the world, does it help that being if I cannot lend a hand? I don’t know honestly, but I can lend my heart, and I can see them for being a human having fallen on hard times instead of as a burden on society. 

We may not be able to put an end to the starving, homeless, broken-heartedness of this world but we can at least look at it, care, and open our hearts to the hard-holy human plight that we are all in together.

We can feed each other—body and soul—and remind each other we all matter. 


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