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The Food Crisis Next Door

June 3, 2008

The international food crisis: it’s showing up daily in the news, bringing additional conflict to war-torn Afghanistan, famine to Somalia, and the hungry faces of children to Cambodia. It seems incomprehensible (if predictable), too huge a problem to grasp, let alone solve. Even the rich are getting fatter from the stress of it all, says this infuriating article in the NYTimes.

But there is of course, the other food crisis, the one next door, the one that has been going on for decades. In 2006, 35.5 million people (including 12.6 million children) lived in households in the U.S. considered to be food insecure. It certainly doesn’t take long walking through the streets of D.C. to be horrified at the extreme disparity of food options (and prices) between H St. and K St.

Recently, I visited my family in France for a week—it was wonderful. I walked through the market every day just because I could, enviously eyeing the fresh asparagus and the buckets of red strawberries. I ate well. I felt good. And when I returned I walked around in a daze for weeks, mildly aghast and largely perplexed at what I saw around me. Endless quantities of junk parading as food, an absence of seasonal fruits and vegetables, obesity everywhere, single plates with portions that could feed entire families. It takes a trip out of the country to really put it all into perspective; the U.S. food crisis is, in my mind, among the most disturbing.

As I slowly pulled myself out of my dazed state, I moved to take action. I jumped at an opportunity to participate in a work share this weekend out at a farm in Maryland. Four hours of labor in return for a bucket of fresh fruits and veggies to take home. Danny and I have been volunteering through Greater D.C. Cares (a great organization to volunteer through especially when you’re already on a 9-5 schedule) at the Dinner Program for Homeless Women and the D.C. Central Kitchen.

These are amazing organizations. The D.C. Central Kitchen alone provides 4,500 meals a day to people in need within the district; they also happen to get fresh produce from the farm I volunteered at this weekend. It may seem minute, but in the face of looming famines around the world, I take solace in harvesting turnips at a local farm and chopping onions at a local kitchen. It reminds me that the world can be very small, our actions make a difference, and there are always a million ways to help.

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