Perhaps you were told by a parent or grandparent as they scowled at the untouched food on your plate, “Don’t waste that!” We often associate that phrase with folks who lived a long time ago, or through a war or famine, when communities sacrificed what little they had to help a cause. Nothing was wasted.
Some of us were not permitted to leave the table or have dessert if we didn’t eat everything on our plate. Parents or guardians pointed out that we were wasting food when children somewhere in the world were going hungry. We may not have even chosen to put that veggie or salad on our plate, but we were expected to eat it, nonetheless.
Plenty of us have lived through situations like these or have heard stories about relatives trying that tactic to get kids to eat something that didn’t look or smell appealing. Actually, our parents were right about not wasting food. The dollop on our plate couldn’t really have been sent to help someone else; however, the idea of not wasting food is quite valuable.
Hunger and Help
As I watch the news and marvel at the acts of kindness and generosity people extend during these hard times, I’m also moved by the number of people needing the assistance of food banks, pantries, and community centers. They simply cannot afford food. Record numbers of people endure unprecedented wait times in food lines.
This got me to thinking about food banks—how they began, where they are, who works there, and how they get the food needed to help people.
The story behind soup kitchens, pantries, and food banks really begins with an attitude that we are all connected, that a social contract exists, a contract that beckons us to care for one another. Acknowledging and responding to others’ needs not only created places that provide food, but also compelled those involved to explore the causes of hunger and its roots.
Food banks are multifaceted organizations. They are run by experts who understand the complex mechanisms of the food industry, and advocates of essential information about economics, hunger, and food waste in our society. Providing food for immediate relief raises the larger and more existential question: Why are people hungry and how can we change that?