Can We Learn to Live with Less?
Helping families cope with ‘the Hunger Season’
By Inez Torres Davis
The aunt of my young Tanzanian friend recently visited the United States for the first time. During her visit, the aunt pronounced, “God must live here.” She saw the embarrassment of riches in our stores, our business districts, our neighborhoods lined with “McMansions,” and many of our homes and churches. We can understand what she meant—such words could bring us pride if we live isolated from a hungry world.
In fact, it is almost cliché. We citizens of the United States have one of the highest standards of living in the world. What makes this truth cliché is how this goes unnoticed by so many of us. We take it for granted. We expect it. When we don’t have it, we get angry and we want to know who is keeping us from having it. And when we’re in the midst of such angst, well—it isn’t a good time for anyone to suggest we need to learn to live with less. But I am suggesting it now: We all need to learn to live with less.
We need to live with less, not so corporations can keep tax incentives or to be sure the wealthiest 1 percent are not “bothered” by such things as social programs that feed the hungry while they provide jobs. Rather, we need to consume less for children dying from chicken pox because they lack the first medicine—nutritious food. We need to provide whatever we can gather to those mothers and children.
When I traveled with Bread to Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania last October, I was confronted by the reality of food as medicine. And, frankly, the idea that food is meant to provide more than sensual pleasure or emotional support was just an idea until I met people who live with what’s called “the hunger season.”
The hunger season is the period of time before harvest when the store of food has been depleted and aid from the United States and other countries is gone. Families prepare for the hunger season as early as November, when adults begin to limit their food intake so the meager food supply lasts longer for the young and elderly. But the food never lasts. The hunger season takes souls each year.
What if we actually focused on using less and sent the surplus to families coping with the hunger season? How does that strike you? Does it seem too big an idea? To quote the late anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Contact the decision makers—again, again, and again. Urge them to form a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people.
Ines Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.