The Advent of Hunger?

This afternoon I was talking with colleagues about our children, in relation to feeding them on a Food Stamp Challenge budget. Some of our parental thoughts: What if they don’t like the food? What if they don’t eat the food? What if they ask for seconds? What if they’re embarrassed by what they bring in their sack lunch? How deprived do they feel without any treats or desserts?


Then, I thought about how winter break is only four weeks away and that is a period of TWO WHOLE WEEKS where a parent would have to feed their children three times a day plus snacks. A new, scary thought for me. What could ever substitute for free breakfast and lunch at school, for two weeks on end?


I’m aware I couldn’t easily have made my Food Stamp budget work this week without the easy cop-out that “oh, my kids would have free lunch provided, so I’ll let them do that as normal, since I’ve already prepaid for this month’s school cafeteria balance.” Sure, I could have made some hard choices and gotten another loaf of bread, another jar of peanut butter, another jar of jam—and had rebellion on my hands from children who will not eat the same sandwich for every lunch (oh, and one who won’t eat sandwiches, period). Perhaps to save some money and spread the budget further to include these extra staple items, I could have failed to buy the very few “treats” I allowed (like instant oatmeal, flavored yogurt, and sausage)—and tried to ignore the pleas of my children for more, for different, for hot cooked food. The thing is, this week for my food budget, I mentally depended on this provision of “free lunch” to make the budget stretch. And now I’m aware what a disaster it would feel like to have extra days off school.


Would winter break start to equate to food pantries and soup kitchens for my children, and awkward small talk with strangers in weird environments, instead of lounging in pajamas until past noon, lazily being family together, eating meals the way we want? Would winter break start to mean for my children a certain amount of standing in line, dressing up to go out in the cold, spending time procuring food, and getting used to a certain empty feeling in our bellies? For me, would it mean grieving over my children’s hunger, trying to dull my own senses and theirs any way possible, or resorting to the hidden poverty of charging things I couldn’t afford on my credit card, deepening personal debt, because I didn’t want to feel hungry and poor or watch my kids be hungry and poor anymore?


I’m aware, again, of privilege. Being picky eaters, being a parent who wants to delight my kids’ (and my own) tastebuds, and deciding to opt for a few “treats,” certainly these things are all privileges that many people don’t have. My kids might become so hungry that eventually they’d be less picky eaters. I could get better at working within a limited budget and even could maybe get our diet to a lower common denominator, given enough time. Treats could become superfluous. We could avoid high calorie-burning activities on days we didn’t have enough calories in. Food could equate fuel (rather than communion). We could survive. We could adapt.


But: at what cost? And what theological lesson?


As we plan to fill Advent with hope, peace, faith and love, I want those things to actually mean something to the children in my community who are hungry. As we await the Christ child, I don’t want any family to have to dread a break from school and work routine, a break that gives more time to worship and be family together.


As we prepare to welcome Immanuel, God With Us, I don’t want any family to have physical proof in their belly that we as a nation, as humanity, as Church are failing to advocate for their feeling God With Them physically. Jesus said to care for one another, not just spiritually, but really; he instructed his disciples: You feed them.


Are we going to take this seriously these weeks leading up to, and including, Advent? Are we going to use the demands of Jesus to instruct our participation—and that of decision-makers—in this Congressional session?


May the God we prepare to welcome on Christmas morning, a God who was born poor, be a God who convicts us of the need to act and advocate and subvert systems that prevent people from experiencing God’s love lived out in human form. May God guide us as we seek to strengthen local food economies, to create resilient communities, to empower those in need, and to demand justice in our food policies.


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