Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hunger at Home

For over 25 years, the primary focus of my professional career has been food.

In my personal life, food has played a major role, falling just behind faith, family, and friends.

I create, prepare, and sell food for a living. When I’m not working, I’m traveling, eating, and writing about traveling and eating. I eat a lot. When recognized while out of town, I’m often asked, “Aren’t you that guy who eats a lot?” Again, food.

I grew up in a modest middle class home, raised by a single working mom, though I never wanted for food. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve been truly hungry— possibly never.

In my life, I have been food rich. I once ate a 32-course, five-hour meal at The French Laundry, the nation’s premiere restaurant. In a few weeks, I’m going back there to participate in another culinary bacchanalia.

I realize how lucky I have been.

Millions have not been so lucky. While you’re reading this, a significant number of our nation’s seniors are debating on whether to pay the water bill or buy groceries. Over the course of a day, 12.4 million children are living at risk of hunger. Real skipping-meals, days-without-food hunger— not in some remote foreign country— here in America.

While we’re planning our next family vacation, there are millions of parents hoping to just make it through the night. They have no clue as to what they’ll feed their children for breakfast.

Of all of the 50 states, Mississippi is at the top of the list for food insecurity. Walker Satterwhite, Executive Director of the Mississippi Food Network, told me recently that last year MFN was feeding 65,000 needy Mississippians each month. Today, that number— due to the change in the economic climate— has risen almost 50% to 100,000 people.

MFN supplies 320 food pantries and soup kitchens across Mississippi with over one million pounds of food every month, but there is still a huge void. “Many Mississippi communities with larger populations have multiple non-profits, large numbers of giving churches, public transportation and friends and family who can assist the needy,” Satterwhite said. “This is not the case in many rural areas. We are seeking out churches, civic groups, and non-profits in the extreme rural areas to take advantage of our program in underserved areas. We have the expertise to assist these organizations in the process of opening these agencies.”

If you are reading this, and live in one of those smaller communities that need help in feeding its under-resourced citizens, please call Mississippi Food Network 601-353-7286.

Walker Satterwhite is one of my heroes. This state is full of heroes. Cookie and Bill Prout formed Christian Services in Hattiesburg in 1986. They prepare and serve 600 meals per day. They also prepare food for Meals on Wheels, which feeds seniors who are homebound. As if that weren’t enough, the Prouts prepare food and distribute it out of a delivery van in three underprivileged neighborhoods in town.

I never focus on how someone got to the point of needing food. That’s a problem for someone else to solve. I care that there are children in my town who are going to bed hungry every night. I know that they had nothing to do with the circumstances that put them in that situation.

My son and I visited The Edwards Street Mission in Hattiesburg a few weeks ago and the shelves had been depleted. Edwards Street is feeding 600 families every month. They need help. Today.

They all need help, today. Send food, volunteer time, send money. Just do something, and do it today.

I’ve spent 25 years in the surplus side of the food business. I’m about to spend a large portion of the next 25 in the food-deficit side— making sure that those who don’t have access to food get it. Join me, and join Walker Satterwhite and the 320 agencies supported by the Mississippi Food Network, or the local soup kitchen or mission pantry in your area, and make a difference.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Robert for bringing attention to this situation right here at home. I grew up in Main Street Methodist Church and eating at Crescent City. I love to read your stories and follow your blog religiously. I am always excited to read the next entertaining story you have to offer. It was a welcome surprise to read this instead. Thank you.

Meal Planning with Connie said...


Thanks for educating us on the needs in our own backyard. I live at the opposite-end of the state from you, but I am sure our needs in North MS are much the same as they are there in South MS. We too have heroes here, who give sacrificially of themselves to feed others. Like you, I feel called to do more myself. Thanks for setting the example and thereby encouraging others to get involved, too.

Many blessings!

Sally Kelly said...

Read your article about hunger. I'm interested in solving this problem. I do have some ideas. The fact that the grocery stores and resturants throw away tons of food that is fit for human consumption is to me a greivious sin when there are hungry people. Is there some way to get these companies to share this food? Perhaps the date they withdraw the items can be backed up a day and they can be sold at a pittance to the churches or other places so they can be distributed to the hungry. It could be a win win solution for the stores and the hungry. We NEED to explore this and some prominent people to take on this mission. Sincerely, Sally Kelly. I am on facebook also.