A Book About Hunger Can’t Ignore the U.S.

Chris Herlinger | August 14, 2013

CROP Hunger Walk participants in La Puente, Colorado. Those involved in the walks in Colorado and New Mexico report an uptick in needs for assistance from food banks. Photo: Courtesy of San Luis Valley CROP Hunger Walk

CROP Hunger Walk participants in La Puente, Colorado. Those involved in the walks in Colorado and New Mexico report an uptick in needs for assistance from food banks. Photo: Courtesy of San Luis Valley CROP Hunger Walk

The fight against hunger is part of our DNA at CWS, and it is being re-affirmed with a new recommitment in our programs and among our staff.

As part of that effort, United Methodist photographer Paul Jeffrey and I are starting work on a book on global hunger – the third of a “humanitarian trilogy,” for Seabury Books, an imprint of the Church Publishing Group. (Paul and I have collaborated on two other books, one on Darfur and the other on Haiti.)

We decided to examine hunger in our next book because it has been a constant theme in our work as journalists – it has trailed us on assignments in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

But the story of global hunger can’t be told without talking about hunger’s own imprint in the United States, where nearly 49 million Americans struggle daily to put food on the table.

The start of my own research and writing on the book began a few weeks back, when I was a participant at a writer’s conference in Taos, New Mexico. I presented some bits from the start of the book and also began scouting out for future reporting and research, both in New Mexico and my home state of Colorado.

CWS Regional Director Art Ziemann told me that hunger-related problems in both Colorado and New Mexico are growing. “The reports back from recipient agencies of the CROP Hunger Walks indicate growing needs, especially among people who work but don’t make enough to support themselves,” he said.

Jerry Anderson, a retired Denver school teacher and a long-time CWS supporter, works at the Arvada (Colo.) Community Food Bank. He agrees that hunger is a problem in Colorado and needs to be addressed. “The big problem is the overall financial picture. It centers on jobs – people not are getting good-paying jobs,” Anderson said.

He added: “What I see as the issues in Colorado on hunger are that people need two jobs to get ahead. The minimum pay is around $7.50 an hour and a person needs two jobs in order to keep even or stay ahead. Otherwise this person needs help from food banks or other non-profit agencies.”

In New Mexico, cities like Santa Fe and Taos seem to prosper. Yet New Mexico is among the poorest states in the country. Judy Gibbs, who chairs this year’s CROP Hunger Walk in the Albuquerque area, said that for more than 30 years, Albuquerque residents have walked “to help our community. Yet, the state of New Mexico overall and Albuquerque specifically still have some of the highest numbers of hungry and homelessness in the country.”

“We must continue our efforts to raise awareness because the face of the hungry and homeless in the mirror is us.” She adds: “Who are the hungry and homeless?  It could be you and me.  We could lose our homes to foreclosure, lose our jobs or experience major health issues. Or, all of the above. The hungry and homeless aren’t ‘those people,’ it’s us!”

Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

As for the start of the book, we’re still kicking around ideas. But here is the start of some thoughts on the issue of global hunger:

“Humans are hungry both at the edges and at the core of our shared life. Hunger is never absent; it is ubiquitous; it afflicts those in noisy, crowded cities and quiet, forgotten villages. At one time, it may have seemed like a spent, dispersed force – something from the past — that touched only, say, rural Africans. Those far from what we might call humanity’s core or center, those living far from the centers of finance and power. And yes, it can seem hidden. But actually it hides in plain sight.  It does its work quietly and insidiously; it gnaws and burrows into so many lives: the poor in New Mexico and the poor in Indonesia, those who toil in kilns in rural Pakistan and those who work not far from the shadow of Wall Street.

“Hunger’s faces are our faces:  The 9-year-old girl in Nairobi who proudly wears a blue school uniform and eats but once a day yet is tired and wan by day’s end. The infant in Moldova, wrapped in blankets but already stunted due to lack of nourishment. The 7-year-old in rural Colorado whose only meal at home is a breakfast of pork rinds and crackers and is asleep at his school desk by 1 in the afternoon. It is never far gone in the world, hunger is. It takes, it steals, it coils, it robs. It diminishes us, it haunts and stunts us, it reduces us. And yet its ultimate dirty secret is this: it needn’t do any of these things. It could, with enough political will and human agency, be ended for good. It needn’t claim, it needn’t maim, it needn’t decimate, it needn’t destroy, it needn’t triumph over hope. It can be stopped.”

Our book will be coming out in 2015. More word on it as we go along.

Chris Herlinger is senior writer with CWS.