You know how sometimes you hear or read something, and something about it just sticks with you for awhile? You’re not sure what it is or why, but it just keeps rolling around in your subconscious until you have to do something about it, like Google it or ask a friend, “Hey, I know this sounds stupid, but have you ever heard of insert your own weird thought because it’s driving me crazy?” You know what I mean? You’re watching TV and someone uses some off-the-wall phrase like “cattywhompus,” and wham, you’re thinking about second grade for two weeks before you connect the dots that the lunch lady at your elementary school used to say that all the time. Or you can’t get a song out of your head for six days and don’t know why until you realize it’s because the singer pronounced something incorrectly and NOW it’s really driving you crazy.
That’s been me this week. I read an article the other day – which I can’t find, and for that I am sorry to not give proper credit to what I’m sure is a great organization – regarding a group that is raising money and donating meals to those in need this holiday season. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all week, and I couldn’t figure out why. While I’d like to say it was an epiphany about helping the less fortunate, some guiding force telling me to stop whining about taking the bus and instead focus on giving, that’s not it. I try and give when I can, whether it’s a coffee to my homeless buddy Kevin at the blue line or a buck to the Streetwise guy on the corner, and while that certainly isn’t winning me any philanthropy awards, I knew it wasn’t guilt about not contributing more than I do. Nope, it was something different. Why couldn’t I get this damn article out of my head?
My brain finally caught up with my subconscious and realized it wasn’t about the article or the organization; it was stuck on one little phrase that didn’t fully register. And when it did, I thought, “What the fuck? Food insecure?? That’s what we’re saying now?” Then I did some Google searching and apparently this isn’t new. This is the actual term that the USDA uses to describe those who are unable to put food on their table. Hunger is apparently not a problem anymore. No one is going hungry. They are simply food insecure.
Does this ring like a sack of BS to anyone else? It makes poverty sound so patronizingly trivial, “Oh, you’re not hungry. You’re food insecure.” Just the word insecure takes away the significance. You’re insecure about your looks, about your talent, about your job, about measuring up to someone else’s standards. Being insecure is a personal issue, a feeling that one has. If I heard the term “food insecure,” outside of this context, I would assume it was being applied to a person who is uncomfortable with what they eat, who is worried about what food they put in their mouth. The first definition that comes up in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary for the word “insecure,” is as follows: “Not confident about yourself or your ability to do things well.” Well, that’s nice. Now you’re hungry AND being judged for it. That certainly gives off a bunch of good feels, doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing. There’s a difference between being worried about feeding your family on a short budget for a week and being hungry. I would wager that a good portion of middle-class families whom we wouldn’t normally consider “hungry,” have gotten their paycheck, looked at their bills, and thought, “Shit. How am I going to stretch a hundred dollars to feed us for the next two weeks?” That’s worrisome. That’s not being comfortable with your situation. That’s buying whatever meat is on sale and skipping take-out and eliminating morning coffee; it’s eating pasta when you want a steak and leftovers instead of a sandwich from the deli. And that sucks. It does. But that’s not being hungry. Literally coming home to nothing in the refrigerator or pantry, going to work on an empty stomach – that’s not insecure. That’s hungry.
I don’t know why this struck such a chord with me – I’m certainly not in danger of going hungry. If anything, I am a little *too* secure with my food, as in, “Well, of course I can eat all of these mashed potatoes tonight, I can make more tomorrow!” It just seems that by changing the definition, by using the politically correct term instead of the word that defines the problem of hunger, we dehumanize it. Think about it. Take a picture of an average-looking man with the caption, “I am food insecure.” Then take the exact same picture of the exact same man and change the caption to “I am hungry.” Which one gets your attention??
There’s many, many terms in our lexicon that we don’t use – at least in polite company – anymore, instead opting for the PC term. These are usually terms that can be construed as insulting, demeaning, downright mean or ignorant. Hungry isn’t one of them. Hunger is hunger, and to call it something else simply does a disservice to an entire population that didn’t get dinner tonight.
****All jokes and ranting aside – if you’re in Chicago and would like to help, please visit No 1 Goes Hungry to see how you can provide for a family this holiday season****