“Mom, I’m starving! When is dinner?” asked the bottomless pit that is my 8 year old son.
Giving an eye-roll to the heavens I replied: “No, you are certainly NOT starving, and thank goodness for that. You may be ready to eat, even a little hungry, but I assure you that you have never been starving, and for that you should be grateful. We are very lucky to have plenty of food to eat. Many people, right in this very town, are not so lucky.”
“Ok, Mom… But, when’s dinner?”
My effort to instill an appropriate level of appreciation for our food security seemed to have been a fail. Sure, we had donated items for various food drives before and had discussions about why we were donating food and how it helped a wide variety of people who for one reason or another were not able to meet their food needs. But now I felt like it was time to take our understanding to another level.
And so began our first experiment. I proposed to my Little Man that in order to have a better understanding of what it was like to not have enough food to eat, we would pick one weekend day and eat normally for breakfast and lunch, but then skip dinner completely. No extra snacks. No big lunch before to lessen the effect. I suggested that he take notes throughout the weekend so he could write about what he experienced afterwards.
Being a fairly compassionate 8 year old, Little Man was completely on board with this project, although his first comment was that we would need to have a ‘feast’ the next morning, which in his world basically means a ‘big’ breakfast (eggs, bacon and toast, etc).
“Oh no,” I said. “People who don’t have food for dinner don’t have food for a big breakfast the next day. Just a regular breakfast for us.”
A bit dubiously, he agreed. Food, after all, is a main focal point of his young life. A little man with a big palate, he enjoys trying different foods, experimenting with combinations, and generally reveling in good quality (and sometimes mediocre quality) grub.
And so, we embarked on this little experiment together. I did not cheat—no midnight snacking for me once he had gone to bed. I stayed true to the intentions of our design, even though he would have been none the wiser if I hadn’t.
As he talked to me about his thoughts and feelings over the two day period, one thing I noted is that he referred several times to “those people.” “Those people who don’t have enough food.” While subtle and unintentional, the distinction bothered me—as if it put a distance between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We talked about how they are just people, as oppose to those people. People in our own town, in our very own school, even, who don’t have enough food to eat.
We also talked about how this experiment would only give us a very general and basic idea of how it must feel to not have enough food to eat, because we are ‘food secure’: even if we skip a meal, we know we are going to come downstairs in the morning to a house well stocked with a wide variety of food. People who have food insecurity not only may not have dinner, but may not know if or when they will have breakfast. Or lunch.
Ultimately, our experiment led to a little better understanding and a little more gratitude for what we are lucky enough to have. And we have stricken the phrase “I’m starving” from the vocabulary.
A few weeks later, however we had a tiff over tomatoes.
Little Man, as I mentioned, is certainly not a picky eater by any means, but he is still 8, and sometimes his taste buds will turn on a dime. Witness the case of the cherry tomatoes. While cleaning out his lunch box after school, I noticed that 1/2 the cherry tomatoes I’d sent for his lunch that day had come back home. “Why did you not eat your tomatoes?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t really like them. And the teacher at lunch told me I should bring them home instead of wasting them by throwing them away.”
“What do you mean you don’t really like them? I just bought them 2 days ago. You picked them out!”
Yes, he told me, but they just didn’t taste that great to him, and he didn’t care for them anymore. I assured him that his teacher was absolutely right to tell him not to waste them. However, my son is a strep carrier, and after having caught strep from him 3 times in the last year, I was not inclined to eat his leftovers that he brought home from the cafeteria, and since he didn’t want to eat them either, we had a bit of a problem.
It is all well and good if you decide you don’t like something, but I JUST bought them and only because those were the ones he asked for. The time to tell me that he wasn’t too keen on them anymore would have been BEFORE I rang them up at the store.
Consequently, I had him go up to his spending money bank and bring me $2, the price for half the container of tomatoes. Since I would eat the rest of them, I thought it fair that he pay for half of them, since he was the reason I bought them in the first place. He agreed that this was a fair conclusion.
He handed me the money, and I was going to just put it in my wallet, when an idea came to me. Rummaging around in the closet, I found an empty canister. I took Little Man’s $2 and put it inside and told him that this was going to be our Food Pantry jar. We would start it with his money and we would then donate it to the local food pantry or use it to buy items that they need and donate them. In addition, since Little Man likes dining out so much, any time we went to a restaurant, we would add a dollar to the jar to show our gratitude for being able to go out to eat.
Just today, I saw a notice from the food pantry in our town indicating that they were low on specific items and listing what they needed. So I went to our jar and counted $10, which we will be using this weekend to purchase needed items and drop them off with the town.
It may not be much, but every little bit helps.