What do we need to live?
Air, to breathe. Water, to drink. Food, to eat. Shelter from heat and cold, wet and drought. Friends and family, to love and be loved by. The intangibles - literature, the arts, perhaps faith in something - to keep us human and make us more.
There. In those three typewritten lines, you have, arguably, all that's needed to optimize our human race. You have, arguably, the recipe for making the life of every man, woman and child on Earth that much closer to good.
Of the six "needed-to-live" items I mentioned, the first three - air, water and food - are utterly indispensable.
Air is, by and large, available freely, although not necessarily in pristine condition.
Water is more problematic. In many areas of the world, its lack is the source of more than enough human woe to break your heart. In the First World, however, it is generally available. In the First World, we're usually successful in ensuring that humans don't systemically die from lack of water.
Hunger, however, is another thing.
Lack of food. Hunger
Hunger is a monster. It kills people. It stunts their lives, their stature, their minds, their spirits. It kills quickly and slowly.
It lives everywhere. Spin a globe and point at some random place; chances are that people are dying because of hunger wherever your finger lands. Hunger's causes are myriad. War, economic mismanagement, greed, short-sightedness, willful ignorance, and, occasionally, inescapable fate; take your pick.
If you're reading this, you're most likely members of the First World. I hope that means you've never experienced hunger. I hope it's an abstraction to you. I know it is to me. Hunger's never squatted in my home, attacked my baby, ruined my concentration. It's never wearied me, or made every thought and action painful and slow, made sleep impossible, and waking life un-doable. It's not my nightmare.
But somewhere on my First World street, somewhere in my First World neighborhood, and in my First World city, there are people who are hungry. There's no room for argument, for denial; there are studies, and demographic analyses and news stories and there's an end to any argument about whether it exists here. It does.
And it affects me, in numerous ways.
Start with the practical. Every child whose physical and mental development is altered by constant low-level hunger is a child who can't concentrate in school, who fails in school, who becomes unemployable, who erodes my society in that fashion.
End with my heart. Every man, woman or child is connected to me, by virtue of species of nothing else. I can't wave a wand and make their lives better, but I have a responsibility to do what I can to give them the chance to make their own lives better. If that means providing at least enough food that they can have a restful sleep, and maybe do a little better in the classroom or on the job, and get strong enough to stand on their own two feet, then I have that responsibility.
And there are outlets that allow me to do so. There are soup kitchens, food pantries, food depositories and distribution centers. In America, a nationwide system of national, regional and local food distribution outlets exists to help fight hunger.
That system - in large part represented by an entity called America's Second Harvest - depends on an established balance of federally supplied or subsidized excess farm commodities (think dairy goods and other basic foodstuffs) and private donations (both individual and corporate) which allow the system to buy more food for distribution to the hungry. It's not a perfect system, but it's amazingly successful.
In my neck of the woods, the system's highest-profile representative is The Greater Chicago Food Depository. In your neck of the woods it may be called something else.
And right now, America's anti-hunger food distribution system is staggering. The balance has been disrupted.
1) The amount of available excess commodities has dropped as the farming industry has become more successful at selling its goods on the commercial market.
2) The amount of money supplied by the federal government to buy those excess goods has not grown to beat inflation or increased food costs for the past several years.
Some, if not all, of the imbalance could be rectified: simply pass a new USDA Farm Bill with a reasonable increase in the amount of money earmarked for the national food distribution system.
That hasn't happened yet, and food distribution centers across the country are reeling. They need your help, and you can help them in a couple of ways.
One way's pretty self-evident. Donate food and money to the distribution centers in your area. Do it for the first time, or increase what you normally give. Donate your time. Contact these groups and ask what you can do.
Another way is to exercise your democratic right to influence your government. You can, if you choose, tell your federal representatives that you want them to pass a farm bill that helps the food distribution system.
You can learn a lot more about the current situation by accessing information at America's Second Harvest, or, here in the Chicago area, the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
I may have come across as a self-important termagant with this. I hope not.