I had a wonderful opportunity earlier this month to appear on a very special television special on RLTV. RLTV, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a cable television network geared toward Baby Boomers and covers issues important to that demographic such as finances, legal matters, nutritional issues, etc. The network took a leap of faith and joined forces with George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, led by Frank Sesno, to present a show on senior hunger. Senior hunger is not a topic that most networks want to discuss, much less to devote an entire program to. I applauded both RLTV and GWU for doing it. Perhaps the beauty of cable is that it creates a unique forum that encourages more in-depth discussion on issues that seem to get short shift elsewhere.
The topic for the show on which I appeared was "Fix America: Ending Senior Hunger." An interesting choice of words, I would say. The implication, of course, is that America is broken and needs to be fixed. Interesting, yes. And very, very true. America's systems and infrastructure for dealing with hunger on every level are in need of repair, revitalization, rethinking and re-examination.
Hunger among the elderly is not a new phenomenon. In fact, we can't even say that senior hunger today is the result of the economic woes of the present world. Hunger among the elderly has existed as long as there have been old people. In other words, forever. It just seems to present itself in different ways throughout the centuries. The phenomenon of being an older person who is food insecure, undernourished, malnourished, or just plain hungry is as old as time. And just why is that? Because there are always present those aggravating circumstances that will prohibit or inhibit an individual's ability to provide food for themself. These factors may be lack of resources, lack of mobility, lack of access, a poor health condition, isolation (both social and emotional), poverty or any number of reasons too numerous to name. Suffice it to say, while the circumstances contributing to the causes of hunger are many, the end result is always the same -- food will cure the symptom, temporarily... but how do we cure the disease of hunger?
Is hunger a disease? I would argue that it is very much a disease. The dictionary defines a disease as "a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people." Indeed, hunger is a disease. But unlike other diseases that afflict a person or a group of people, this one is different. This one seeks no magical potion that has yet to be invented in a laboratory. The solutions to this disease are out there. There are many innovative, creative thinkers who can see a problem and "invent," "design," "concoct" and otherwise "imagine" the solutions. We need to call on these folks to help us "fix" a broken America. No one in this country should go hungry. But if we do not include the issue of senior hunger in a larger discussion about hunger, we are only painting half a picture of the hunger problem. Ignoring the issue of senior hunger prevents those who would otherwise embrace a response from acting on it. We need to respond to the problem, and we need to muster the courage to do it.
There are wonderful programs in America today that address the issue. I think that Meals On Wheels is a wonderful program, and I think the world of those local programs that work on a daily basis to address the immediate nutrition needs of today's hungry seniors. What we must do in tandem with this intervention for an existing problem, however, is to begin focusing on prevention -- that is, to look to the future and think about what we do to break the life cycle of hunger to avoid the possibility not just of a fiscal cliff, but of a human cliff of poverty and hunger. We need to seek solutions that are viable, sustainable and practicable to end senior hunger.
We have enough food to feed every man, woman and child in this country. I have been saying that now for over 20 years. I've been in this "business" for that long now. I'm trying to work hard enough to be able to put myself out of business. If there were no hunger, I, and all those who toil in the field of ending hunger, wouldn't have to be doing this day after day. But we do. So we continue to fight the good fight to put an end to this dreadful scourge. And yet, there is enough food.
This always reminds me of the story of the mother and daughter who part ways at the airport and hug and kiss goodbye. But instead of saying goodbye, the mother turns to the daughter and says: "I love you and wish you enough." The daughter in turn says to her mother that she too loves her and wishes her enough. When questioned about this, they respond that the words come from an old expression of love:
"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright."
"I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more."
"I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting."
And so, I say that these four simple words be our mantra and our sustaining philosophy: I wish you enough.
I wish you enough food to keep your belly full, and I also wish you enough courage to work alongside us to end senior hunger once and for all.