I wonder how it's possible to say too much, too little, or just enough about food. For some of us, it never bears thinking about; it's simply what you take at mealtimes to avoid getting hungry and eventually dying. For others, it's an all-consuming passion.
And for still others, it's a dream: elusive, seemingly unobtainable.
See what I mean? So hard to pick just one thing about food to write about. So here's my one thing about food today: the lack of it. Also known as hunger.
I went through a foolish period on the border of my teenage and adult years when hunger was frequent, mainly because of my misguided response to circumstances. But in recent years, there's been only one day when I went hungry because I had no money. I'd started a new job in an upscale neighbourhood where the cost of one meal could literally feed a family well for a day. I had to rush to work that first day, and ended up leaving my packed lunch in my nearly-bare fridge; I'd thrown it together out of the only provisions I had remaining until my first pay.
I still remember how, somewhere around mid-morning, I began to feel the usual rumbling in my midsection. I usually counter that with some low-GI snack to tide me over until lunch. But that day there were no snacks, and there was to be no lunch. The hungry feeling in my stomach went away in the late afternoon as, I imagined, that organ decided it had had enough of being ignored. But for the rest of the workday, I felt my alertness fall, watched the lines in spreadsheets grow blur, willed the words to stop merging into one another and swapping places on documents and getting lost in my brain just as I was going to type them out.
On the one-hour train and bus journey home, all I could think about was that plastic container of food on the second shelf of my fridge. The girl next to me on the train had an open container of trail mix on her lap, from which she would periodically pull a nut, granola cluster or other typical trail-mix component. Every crunch was excruciating, amplified by the juddering across every single rail along the Harbour Bridge that had never bothered me before. Walking through Town Hall station underground to get to the bus stop, I was assailed by the smells of frying chips and seafood, sushi, panini being toasted, dark nutty breads from the German bakery -- all just an arm's reach away, yet they might as well have been half a world away because my wallet was empty.
I had long before that made a habit of saying grace before every meal, and meaning it. So I can't say it was that one day last year that caused me to be thankful for food, because I was already thankful. But maybe it made my thanks into something real, rather than an abstract concept. Now that I had been hungry, I knew now just how privileged I was each time I had food before me.
I resolved that day to go without food every year on that date, as far as health permits, so that I'll constantly be reminded of the many for whom hunger is not a choice. They're not always in some dusty faraway land, and they don't always have the "starvation look". Whenever I'm able, even if in the smallest and seemingly most ineffective of ways, I want to help the hungry to not be hungry. Sometimes I sink deep in ideological questioning, in suspicion over institutional motives and feasibility, or in beating myself up over how little I'm doing to solve a huge worldwide problem, but then I bring myself back to the blank-minded, wobbly-kneed reality of that one day and am reminded of the simple truth: the answer to hunger is food. Will at least a small part of that answer will come from me?
A final note: it's quite rare for me to directly address you, but I'll do it this time. Each of the links in this post is to a different not-for-profit programme addressing the contemporary hunger problem. If you can, please click to learn and give, or search online for other channels if none of these suits you. This post-a-day project has reminded me that there are so many material gifts I could place on a birthday wish list, which I still might do, but right now what would make me happy is knowing that there are just one, two, 13, 58, however many fewer (I know, what an awkward phrase, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining and I am in a hurry to post this so that I can go for a walk) hungry people on earth. For starters.