18 August, 2009

Blathering on Hunger

As I was fumbling contacts into bleary eyes this morning, my stomach untied itself from the knot I had been unaware of and startled me with the ferociousness of its growl. I was hungry. I am often hungry as I tend to skip meals to do more interesting things and frequently go 12 or more hours without any food*. This is a long-tailed habit rooted back 8 years, and it is not likely to change. I don't mind being hungry. I relish it, because it reminds me of the sheer vitality of the human body, its metabolic resilience, and it makes my next meal taste that much sweeter. I sincerely believe that food would not be nearly so appealing if I didn't occasionally let myself get so hungry that the reptilian brain underneath my consciousness begins to wonder how squirrels taste. That being said, this morning's hunger was somehow different. Normally hunger pangs are diffuse, a distant inconvenience upon the sphere of my awareness, but this was sharp and intense and immediate like a rattlesnake uncoiling.

And my hunger made me feel guilty.

I had oatmeal in the pantry and a stove to cook it on. This is a privilege, and it is one that I do not take lightly or for granted. So many people in the world are hungry, even in the West, and we simply don't see them. Sure, we admonish children to finish their peas because a kid in Poor Country X doesn't even have peas, but this nicety conceals an ugly truth: that the kid in Poor Country X really exists, and actually is hungry.

Wrapped up within this is the disgust that the phrase "I'm starving!" evokes from me. It is a terrible hyperbole, and I find it cruel and inappropriate to use when you merely want lunch while someone else in the world may not have lunch, or have had breakfast, dinner, or lunch the day before. Americans claim to be starving at the slightest hint of hunger, but maybe that is just the uniquely privileged perspective that we as a nation have, when we live in a country that has so much food that many are obese even on top of all the food we simply throw out. I suspect that the majority of the people who use this phrase so callously have never really been hungry and I wonder what they would do in a hard situation. So much of our Western society is carried upon the backs of titans treading on toothpick bridges, tenuous and fragile. Entirely dependent upon fossil fuels, yet still incredibly wasteful. The food we, as a country, throw away before even opening the package could probably feed a great many people. Yet somehow, just as the hyperbole of "I'm starving!" or the "Eat your peas because a child in Poor Country X doesn't have them" is part of our culture, food waste is also deeply ingrained upon our national consciousness.

I'm debating whether or not I am too proud to reclaim some of the unspoilt food that gets thrown away. On the one hand, it is there, free to take and perfectly edible, but on the other hand I feel that it is somewhat gross to eat dumpster chicken (if found still cold in an unopened package). I am fairly certain that many of those who are relatively well-fed yet claim to be starving would find it disgusting, but what are your thoughts?

*It should probably be noted that when I do eat, I try to eat 1Mcal+ at a time.


Ktbug Ladydid said...

hmmm. Hunger is an interesting problem. As for dumpster diving, I honestly don't have a problem with it. My living room chairs were scrounged from a dumpster. I had a stuffed animal from one as well. I wouldn't admonish someone for doing it (even with food-although I would be concerned for salmonella and other food born illnesses). I guess the bigger question is, why would you do it? Because you need to eat? Yes. Because you're starving and can't afford food? Sure. To save on unnecessary grocery bills? Why not? For the thrill? Ok. To stick it to "the man"? Maybe not so much.

I think though, if you want to be more food conscious, that you should support your local farms. Help those who genuinely make a living off the earth, and provide you with healthy, fresh food. And, think about donating to groups that help establish sustainable food in countries that need help.

Isabel said...

What do I think? That you are way over thinking this and being really judgmental.

Also obesity is correlated with poverty.

Toaster, do you give back? Volunteer in your community etc? If you truly feel guilty this might be a better outlet than passing judgment on a whole society, or on people who use a commonplace expression that means "I'm really hungry"

What's going on with all the guilt in the blogosphere anyway? You can't take two steps wihout running into it.

Lastly, if you really want to get analytical, are YOU getting something out of this position you are taking - like a feeling of superiority?

microbiologist xx said...

I don't know if I am too proud to forage for food from a dumpster, but I am certainly not hungry enough to even consider it.