The Hope of Sustenance

March 31, 2011 | 2 Comments | Important Causes

I would liked to have posted earlier today (and by today I mean Wed. – although it’s after midnight on Thu. morning, I consider it still…yesterday…until I’ve gone to bed), but I had a number of pressing school projects. The most urgent of these taken care of, I now have a little time to develop the notes I jotted for myself earlier in the day.

Today was my third day of a water-only fast (with the minor exception of two Tic-Tac breath mints yesterday and today, at the gentle suggestion of my mother <smile>). While I’ve heard that after a while you actually end up having a fresh burst of energy and feeling alive and full of vitality, today wasn’t that. :) In fact, I even considered taking the elevator in the library, where I always take the stairs…my legs felt tired and I just preferred to save my energy.

A part of me would like to press on through tomorrow, which I think I could do, but I have a test in the morning, and I think it would be wise to go back on some sort of rations for brain power. I still intend to keep it to one or two meals though, and skip the fast food and other treats on campus or at home through next Monday at least.

One of the things I was pondering today was the hope of sustenance and how food is a motivator in so many ways. A parent or teacher might give a cookie or a piece of candy for success in school or potty training or learning to read. Banks have jumped on the coffee bandwagon and started offering free java to their customers. Grocery stores hand out samples to serve as an incentive for trying a new product.

It’s not just here in the U.S. that that is the case, however. Even our government recognizes that giving food aid is actually a means of promoting foreign security. School feeding programs are in part an incentive for children to get an education (and for their parents to let them – it’s one less meal to find). And the lack of food can be a motivator too – something that causes food-related riots, makes someone work harder at his or her job, sadly, perhaps even sell himself or herself to get fed.

The demotivation connected with a lack of food was on my mind today too. It’s a little harder to study when you haven’t had food for a couple days – and that happens even for fellow college students here in the States that might have run out of funds by the end of the month and are considered “food insecure.” In my case, food has been fairly frequently on my mind recently (but I realize, as I noted yesterday, that I think about food a lot anyway). But even if you somehow put food out of your mind and your stomach isn’t constantly growling to remind you of your lack, the effects on concentration and productivity are still there – and far more so for those who’ve had less than enough food for months.

Because of this, getting people fed is crucial to them being able to take self-supporting steps to develop businesses and enhance the quality of life in their communities. We can’t expect people to work with passion and persistence and brilliance when they’re starving and have no strength, although I know many still do. All of these efforts have trickle-down effects…the mother who is sufficiently well-nourished is more likely to give birth to healthy babies, and in turn they can grow up and become leaders in their countries. The person who has enough to buy more than just mac’n’cheese and Ramen noodles is likely to live a longer and healthier life.

But those of us who have enough food need a different sort of empowerment, an awakening if you will. It’s in part because of that that I’ve undertaken this fast. I have to ask myself “what are my motivations for the things I do in life? What am I filling the emptiness of my new-found time with? “What are the other priorities I make as soon as I know I have food covered? “What would those be for others in third world countries?” I’ll be the first to say that I think it’s good and important for people to enjoy good-tasting food, without guilt, when it fits in their budget. But even just a few days of not going to fast food places drives home the point again that these costs add up – and do I really want to be consistently spending money on something so fleeting, above and beyond what I need to survive?

Some organizations encourage us to give up a Coke or a cup of coffee each day and donate the funds to sponsor a child or help fund some other important cause. And while I think that’s a great idea, it’s never really worked well for me…I tend to figure I’ll just give the money and still have my little luxuries. It’s very easy to spend $3 here on a coffee and $5 there on a sub, and not think about how in a month that ends up being worth quite a few dollars. I’ll certainly be saving money if I have less fast food…and I think it’s a good idea to have a plan for those pinched pennies, whether it’s saving them for a rainy day or sharing them with someone else in need. I think the key might be in specificity…choosing something in particular to be benefited by whatever you’re abstaining from.

I’m grateful I didn’t grow up in a home where my parents said “finish what’s on your plate – there are starving kids in Africa.” Because I don’t think that’s the proper correlation to make. Yes, there are starving kids…but eating more or less of what’s on one’s plate doesn’t change that. However, some of the motives behind that admonition, including a desire to not waste, are excellent. The amount of food thrown out by restaurants and grocery stores and others is appalling! And they say that there’s enough food in the world for everyone to have 4 lbs a day.

One thing I’ve thought of too, is how lack drives demand. It would be very easy for me to be tempted to gorge myself on every possible tasty thing I could get my hands on when I break this fast…whether to “make up” for my time off those things, or perhaps even the slightly more noble endeavor of savoring my food more than I did before. Or I could almost as easily forget the whole thing in just a few short days or weeks…comfortable once again with the status quo and my common routine. But I hope I don’t. I hope I remember hunger…the little piece of hunger I’ve tasted (no pun intended – these eating phrases are just everywhere)…and keep it near enough the front of my mind to encourage extra thinking and pondering and doing.

Finally, today’s fasting has made me even more curious and desirous of playing a role in my local community when it comes to hunger initiatives. While Numana does a great job of encouraging food drives for local food banks at our events, and we’re in the process of developing some other neat local initiatives like community gardens, again, I haven’t personally taken/had the opportunity to volunteer at the Kansas Food Bank or help dish out meals at the homeless shelter. I do have the privilege of working with several food-related businesses as a business consultant, and I’m particularly excited about the positive health and economic benefits of food raised by local growers. Even though the need is so great in other countries, I think we’ll find even more willing volunteers and supporters when they see us “taking care of our own.”

Thanks for reading – as always, your comments are welcomed. I’d love to hear your ideas for impacting hunger locally and internationally, and keeping these topics fresh on our minds without getting overwhelmed or putting guilt trips on ourselves. Cheers!

Read the rest of the posts in this series:

 


Water: A Delicious Drink

March 29, 2011 | 3 Comments | Important Causes

Today’s drink du jour was once again, water. I didn’t grow up drinking juice or pop much; water was what we always chose at restaurants (perhaps a kid’s cup of lemonade once in a while), and on rare occasions we’d pick up a liter or two of root beer to go with pizza. In the last couple years at college I’ve had pop on slightly more frequent occasions, but what I really love now, is coffee.

Coffee to me is symbolic of so much that is comfortable and delicious and friendly in life, and while I have it at most once a week on average (don’t want to get addicted, and don’t want to put all my funds in that direction!), if that, it’s a luxury I delight to afford myself with regularly when possible.

So it felt a bit odd when I walked into the coffee shop today for a social media meeting with a friend…and ordered just a water. Really, today has been much easier than yesterday, when I had a headache. Even though my stomach growled more than once in class, I really didn’t feel all that hungry (although the heightened sense of smell that comes with fasting definitely made every food I came near seem particularly attractive and delicious).

When I joined my young siblings later on after my meeting, they were insistent that I smelled like coffee and must have had some…to which I laughed and explained I actually hadn’t (very rare if I enter a coffee shop). I’ve realized again today that much of my time is spent thinking about or eating food. I usually grab a snack here, eat breakfast in front of my computer there… It actually opens up a rather large window of time for study and other projects to not be eating…although I’ll be glad of course to get back to savoring food of almost every kind.

Later, I joined my family for time together around the dinner table (a most tasty-looking salad and pizza were on the menu). I think on the one hand it makes sense sometimes to avoid temptation and stay away from food sources altogether when fasting…but once again, I was glad to have the reminders that this was a choice I was making for myself, a choice that others didn’t have. I know I’ve heard of many, many stories of people in third-world countries that still smile despite their circumstances, and aren’t focused on what they don’t have. In this case I had the stories and laughter of my family to share, and a nice tall glass of cool, clean, refreshing water.

Recently it was World Water Day (Mar. 8th), and I shared a picture over on Tumblr from a very cool campaign that Charity:Water was doing to help people think about what life would be like without water, called “Water Changes Everything.” I’ve been very impressed with this organization’s creative ways of getting the word out about this important need – they’re well-regarded in nonprofit circles as a positive example of using marketing efforts for a cause.

At my school, computer science is in the College of Engineering, and last semester I had the opportunity to participate in a group called Engineers Without Borders. One of the things that really stuck out to me was a statistic referenced (which I still need to research in greater depth) about how a large number of wells installed in Africa were non-functional within a few years, due to a variety of reasons from a lack of maintenance to villagers not trusting something installed by an outside organization, etc… EWB tries to make sure it works in coordination with the local community to develop projects that locals are personally invested in and can maintain.

To me, this is so important. I want to support and promote organizations that are taking sustainable actions toward long-term change. I recognize that sometimes stop-gap or temporary measures are needed, but my heart is to see communities become self-sustaining. That’s why Numana not only participates in disaster relief, but also focuses on school feeding programs that promote education and empower a rising generation of leaders that can help to change the course of countries like Haiti for the better.

But even more than food, water is a critical, foundational resource. And for me today, it was delicious.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:

 


Grateful to be Hungry

March 28, 2011 | 6 Comments | Important Causes

You may or may not know that I happen to be one-half of the social media team for a nonprofit hunger relief organization called Numana, Inc., based in El Dorado, KS. The story of how I got involved with Numana* (through social media in fact!) well before the first major packaging event on Dec. 29 & 30, 2009 is an interesting tale, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Since that first event we’ve held 62 volunteer-driven food packaging events from coast to coast in 12 states and 38 cities, packaging nearly 22 million meals consisting of chicken-flavored soy protein, rice, beans, and vitamins for disaster relief in Haiti, the Pacific, and beyond, as well as for school feeding programs.

A couple weeks ago Numana and Universities Fighting World Hunger hosted the first-ever Kansas Hunger Dialogue, with student, administrative, and faculty representatives from 20 of Kansas’ 42 colleges and universities in attendance. I found it very encouraging to hear from students and others in the hunger activism arena, particularly about specific ways to address the issues and raise awareness.

While the numbers are daunting, there was a definite can-do attitude and I think and hope that people left inspired and empowered to take action and care even a little bit more. I also appreciated that the various speakers emphasized how everyone can play a role in fighting hunger, even if it’s not their primary passion, from the business student helping with marketing efforts for events to the athletic participants in a walk or race to raise awareness.

Our final keynote speaker was Ambassador Tony Hall, who helped to found the Congressional Hunger Center and is the current Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger. He spoke about some of his work to fight hunger and about other important issues (if you want to hear the 30-minute speech, click here), and then invited those in attendance to join him in a Hunger Fast beginning on March 28th.

He explained that he went on a similar water-only 22-day fast back in 1993, in response to Congress eliminating the House Select Committee on Hunger, and that this time it would be in solidarity with those suffering from hunger around the world who would be negatively affected by likely national budget cuts to foreign aid, which is less than 1% of the Federal Budget. This gained the attention of the media nearly 20 years ago when many individuals and organizations joined him in fasting and prayer and awareness efforts then, and the same is happening today, with already over 4,000 signed up to participate in some way.

Despite my social media efforts for the cause of fighting hunger, I have to say, I still feel somewhat inoculated and protected from the pain and suffering so many experience in the world today. I’d bet that I’ve read more statistics and articles on hunger, watched more video clips and participated in more packaging events than the average person. I’ve cried lots of tears, tried to put my money where my mouth is, and donated volunteer time to the cause.

But unlike Numana’s founder, Rick McNary, I haven’t had the opportunity to personally hold a starving child and have my life forever changed by that reality. It is a reality for me, but a distant one…one that too easily fades with the much clearer realities I face on a day-to-day basis – taking challenging computer science classes, helping to watch little brothers, fitting in an IM chat or a Facebook game or two here and there.

So this morning, almost on a whim, I decided to do it. To participate in the fast. No, I haven’t signed any petitions, joined the Circle of Protection, nor even decided how long I plan to do this. To be honest, this isn’t even political for me. Fasts can be undertaken for spiritual reasons, for health reasons, sometimes to help one focus or maybe remind oneself of others’ needs…and perhaps in one sense I’m doing this for all those reasons.

Normally I think it’s a good idea to have the whys and wherefores planned out, reasoned out, but today I decided regardless of whether it would actually make a difference in the life of someone else (and I hope it and this post does), and regardless of who else was doing it and why, 25,000 people dying today from hunger-related causes…is enough of a reason.

I’ve fasted before, sometimes intentionally, usually not so. In case you’re wondering, I happen to love food. I thought my sister made an astute observation recently when she noted that perhaps I’ve been so involved in the hunger movement in part precisely because I love food so much (and want others to have a similar opportunity to enjoy food not just as a means of survival, but for its own sake).

But when I got out of my morning class, I deliberately walked past the college cafeteria, bypassing the fast food restaurants that I often frequent on long days like today. I sipped water from the drinking fountains once in a while, and found myself noticing anything food-related even more than usual…the person walking with a fast food bag and drink across campus, the vending machines, the signs on the way home.

I had the occasion to remind myself over and over again that this was nothing compared to what so many go through…those that don’t even have clean water to drink, let alone warm, nutritious food to eat. And I found myself grateful…grateful for the opportunity to give myself the slightest taste of others’ pain, and have it become that much more real for me…grateful to be hungry and know I could get fed…grateful for life and hope and the opportunity to help others and make a difference. Grateful…for hunger.

For this week, I want to be hungry, because there are so many that don’t have a choice. Join me?

Read the rest of the posts in this series:

*I think it probably goes without saying, but in this and all other posts on this site, the views expressed here are my own and not necessarily held by Numana as an organization or its staff.

 


Pursuit of the Picturesque – A Misty Valley

March 24, 2011 | Comments Off on Pursuit of the Picturesque – A Misty Valley | Pursuit of the Picturesque

This photo I can’t take credit for; but that is precisely why I’m posting about it. When I first saw this photograph of a misty valley on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, I was immediately taken with it. I later asked my friend Carl Gray, the photographer, if I could use it as my avatar on Twitter just after joining the site (a little over a year ago). He graciously said yes, and since then it has been a consistent part of my online “brand” not only on Twitter, but on other sites and tools like LinkedIn and Disqus as well. I’ve received compliments and questions about it several times.

I had the immense privilege of visiting Seattle & Tacoma, WA last year for about a week, and I have to say, it was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been…everywhere one turned, there were landscape photo opportunities, and I loved my stay there for that as well as countless other reasons, from the coffee to the culture. I can’t wait to go back, but in the meantime, Carl makes an excellent Washington tourism promoter with his many wonderful photos of the beautiful state in which he resides. Thank you, Carl, for capturing and sharing the beauty of nature with me and others through your photography!