Friday, April 1, 2011

Hunger and the Budget

I'm hungry. Not starving, just hungry. Just hungry enough so that it feels sharp and hard rather than desperate and empty. My senses are heightened, my eyes a little dry, and as I type my hands are taut with a thin, barely-there nervous quiver. The day has an almost metallic edge to it, which holds its own odd satisfaction.

I'm on day three of a juice fast inspired by this NYT op-ed column by Mark Bittman. I love nearly everything that man writes, but I found this piece particularly moving. Bittman was himself inspired by World Food Prize laureate David Beckmann, who is organizing this fast to raise awareness of the budget cuts currently making their way through Congress -- particularly those that relate to food and hunger.

The budget proposal currently before the House is egregious in many ways, but the proposed cuts to food assistance programs can only be described as at best heedless and at worst cruel. Among other things, this budget entails cuts to the WIC program, which serves as an absolutely crucial bulwark for some of society's most vulnerable, and cuts to international aid programs that would immediately cut off 18 million of the world's hungry from much-needed food aid.

So why a fast? What difference can me not eating for a few days possibly make? I'm not personally fasting to raise awareness, like Bittman, Beckmann, et al.... or at least not exactly. Over the past couple of days, I flatter myself that I may have influenced one or two people to join in, but honestly that's not really the point. Even collectively, I doubt this sort of symbolic protest will ultimately carry much weight vis a vis the congressional sausage making. And I'm not fasting for the hungry who will be affected by these cuts, or at least not exactly. I doubt my rich western solidarity gives the hungry much solace when all is said and done.

I'm fasting almost purely for myself. Not fasting to teach myself what hunger feels like -- although that is useful knowledge -- but more just to feel the weight of this thing. I'm fasting to drive home to myself the seriousness and reality of this otherwise rather abstracted process. Because what we're witnessing in Congress right now is catastrophic. It's callous. It's inhumane. It's cruel. And if I really care about food and justice, then I need to do everything I can to feel the gravity of that.

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