Lessons on Sweet Potato Fries and Airplanes

Have you ever tried to put 30 pounds of apples into a ten pound bag?

I often live under the illusion that I can fit just one more minor task in my day, a practice that works for me most of the time.

Such was the case when I recently landed in Tampa, Florida and discovered that I had been spared what I thought was the perfect amount of time to grab a bite ‘to go’ from the food court next to my gate. I ordered, paid more than I wanted to, and stood there drooling over the fact that it was going to be all worth it when I bit down on those fresh sweet potato fries.

These days, the luxury of filling my belly between flight connections is a rarity.

As the minutes began to pass, I started to feel a little more panicked.  Certain signs began to tell me I may have to choose between my food and the flight home. I was feeling terrible because I had dragged my colleague into this mess, and she was probably not going to get her order either. The women working the grill were moving in slow motion, like a cartoon.

“Hadn’t their manager told them that they work in an airport?’ I thought to myself.

“Pick up the pace ladies!!”  In a panic, I told the cashier that we were going to miss our plane. She clearly didn’t care.

Food, or plane? We chose plane.

I huffed and puffed about this whole situation through the bulk of our two-hour flight home. By the time we landed, it would be close to nine hours since our last meal.

Then it hit me hard. We’d just come from a conference on social factors that drive negative health outcomes, especially for people in poverty.  Just several hours earlier I was having conversations about the countless seniors in this country who are choosing between buying food or medicine. Hourly workers are grabbing chips in the vending machine for lunch, because they are experiencing scarcity of time or money.  Parents are spending four dollars a gallon for milk at the local convenience mart, because they have no transportation and the closest grocery is a fifty minute walk.

I needed to NOT get my food that day. My current state of life allows me the privilege to not care about the food insecurity of people in my own community, if I so choose. My privilege invites me to cling to two extreme and dehumanizing narratives, either:

  1. That people experience hunger because they are helpless victims of a terrible system, or
  2. That they are just living with the consequences of their own behavior.

These narratives place me in characters I wasn’t meant to play, as the hero rescuing the victim or the protagonist using blame or shame to justify my own apathetic state.

Listen up folks because here is the point: We have a full-on assault to caring in our country because these narratives are being applied to a whole host of social issues including homelessness, substance abuse, social isolation, racism and more.  And if we continue to embrace them, then we continue to erode what we know to be true in the depths of our soul… that all people have inherent dignity and value. This truth requires us to care and engage with inequity; working towards just systems with people experiencing poverty at the center of the change, as key actors in their own story.

But caring is like a muscle. It has to be consistently strengthened or it will atrophy. And sometimes that strengthening comes through little annoyances, like not getting my food.

 


 

For up-to-date information on food insecurity in America go to foodinsight.org.

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