As a youngster, I didn’t pay much attention when Mom would nudge me to finish my spinach by invoking “the hungry kids in China.” Today, I’m a lot more attentive, because those hungry kids are right next door.
Almost one in four children in Ohio are food insecure. Think about that. Twenty-five percent of our kids are hungry or subsisting on inadequate diets. That’s 650,000 boys and girls whose minds, muscles and bones may not develop properly. Who are at risk of infections and disease. Whose learning ability and social skills may be impaired. Nearly one quarter of our next generation may never enjoy fulfilling, productive lives because here in the land of plenty, they don’t have enough. It’s heartbreaking. And unacceptable.
Right now, you can make a difference. And I mean right this moment. Put down the magazine, grab your phone and donate. A great option is the Ohio Association of Food Banks, Ohio’s largest charitable hunger buster, where they turn $1 into four meals. If every Farm Bureau household contributed just $10, we’d fill the plates of hungry children more than 8 million times. There’s also the statewide Children’s Hunger Alliance and countless local activities like Farm to School, which you can read about on page 14, that are worthy and in need of your support. Seriously, do it right now.
I’d like to promise your charity will change the world. It will make a difference. A significant difference. But when these kids, 385,000 elderly Ohioans, another million Ohio adults and 49 million Americans face undernourishment, donations are only a start. If we’re to truly break the cycle of hunger, we need to break a couple of bad habits.
I’d start with stopping the tendency to demonize food stamps. Somehow it’s become popular to blame the victims. Yes, like you, I’ve been annoyed by the guy at the grocery wearing $200 Nikes paying for Cheez-Its with food stamps, but he’s a one-percenter. Ninety-nine percent of our tax dollars for the officially titled Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are not wasted by fraud or abuse. Let’s continue to weed out the cheaters, who are mostly organized traffickers, not individuals. Let’s connect recipients to fresh foods at farmers markets. Let’s study the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pilot program that invests some SNAP money in helping beneficiaries become more employable. Let’s stop begrudging the $4.50 a day in food aid we ask some of our neighbors to scrape by on. The debate over food assistance shouldn’t be about how to stop giving it. It should be about how to stop needing it.
Another habit we’d be well served to eliminate is all the hating that’s heaped on high-tech farming. I’ve no problem with wanting foods we think of as grown organically/locally/sustainably. My problem is when food not farmed that way is portrayed as inferior or undesirable. The reality is modern farming technology produces more food at lower costs. In a world with hungry kids, this is not a bad thing. I recently heard Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, who runs the previously mentioned food bank group, say there’s nothing wrong with being particular about how our food is raised, but the people she serves don’t have the luxury of being picky.
Maybe it’s because I’m in agriculture, but among all the world’s ills, none is more troubling than hunger. So before you flip further through the stories celebrating Ohio’s agricultural bounty, remember those who’ve been left out. Please, put a dent in childhood hunger. Do it right now.
John C. (Jack) Fisher
Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president