A few nights ago, I dreamed of babies crying from hunger. Often, I can dig through the memory of my day to find the seed that was planted for the dream, i.e. a movie, news headline, or an NPR program. But not for this dream, except to say that in the subsoil of my conscience the issue of hunger always exists and it must have been stirred up and mingled with my mind’s protective topsoil. My husband and I were planning a culinary walking tour in Portland, Maine and I was eagerly looking forward to a large cone of french fries fried in duck fat at a favorite restaurant. Was I feeling guilty for this indulgence, and for eating too much in the last week when cool weather arrived?
Hunger is not only about too many people and too little food. It’s about the inequalities in accessing resources. Famine often happens not because there’s a lack of food, but it is about who has access to food. At the height of the Great Hunger in Ireland, An Gorta Mor, a New York City newspaper wrote, “In 1847 alone, three hundred thousand of the Irish people perished from starvation, or from diseases incident to the lack of food. And during that very year, 73,000 cattle, 43,143 pigs, and 26,599 crates of eggs were sent into England from the very districts where the famine raged with most severity.” By the end of the famine, which indeed lingered till after 1850, over a million people had perished.
Bread for the World site gives these statistics:
The world is facing a hunger crisis unlike anything it has seen in more than 50 years.
925 million people are hungry.
Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds.
There were 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty in 2005. The World Bank estimates that the spike in global food prices in 2008, followed by the global economic recession in 2009 and 2010 has pushed between 100-150 million people into poverty.
At my book talks, I often quote from the book, Irish Hunger, Personal Reflections on The Legacy of the Famine, Edited by Tom Hayden. Hayden writes in the Introduction, “We have not healed from these repressed horrors; it is as if unmarked Famine graves are in each of us.” There is also an essay titled, “The Need to Feed,” about a Famine descendant who has always wanted to feed people. I relate to this because I went to India with visionary stars in my eyes many years ago…to feed the hungry and save souls, I thought. This was well before writing about The Great Hunger. And I baked for friends as a teen and wanted to pass out brownies to all the neighborhood children (as my mother did). These kids weren’t undernourished at all, except perhaps from eating Wonder bread and marshmallow fluff. I once had a Victorian tea catering business and created teas with a bountiful table of scones, tarts, and cakes. All you can eat at my teas for $15.00. And I create cakes and all kinds of pastries for our Irish dances we host in our home. It’s not just a love of baking, but also a driven sort of thing whereby I feel empowered to be able to have bounty for myself and to share with others. I fear sometimes I won’t be able to obtain fresh produce and goods…I hope that isn’t a reflection living in New Hampshire without Wegmans (look that grocery store up…it’s the best in the world…and they give to community hunger and world hunger). I have given, as we all do…and I often give a percentage from my books sales. I don’t share this to garner praise and to pat myself on the back. I am humbled, but I am also immensely grateful.
I don’t know what to do about the dream. I have been quieted in my soul in prayer for the children I saw. I must do more. I say this after just baking an apple pie and working on a book of essays with recipes today. I give thanks. And I will do more.
“Much is at stake,” Hayden said, “therefore, in remembering the Famine. If we are willing to undertake a painful journey, to open what Peter Quinn calls our ‘closets full of bones’, we may find new strength with which to face the spiritual, cultural and political challenges of our future, as Irish men and women and citizens of the world.”