Insecure Imaginations

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I was listening to NPR this morning in the car and was really struck by a story on childhood hunger-- both for the content of the article, and the thoughts provoked there, and by the reporter and/or what wasn’t in the article.And I’m not sure if I’ve totally unpacked that last part yet.

Towards the end of the article, the reporter describes the youngest child in the story as saying that he worries about where his food will come from, but is not hungry, and then has an older child explain this as “[Alex] just worries about if there's going to be enough food that he likes”.

The article goes on to describe a full fridge, with nothing to eat, complaints over brussels sprouts - i.e. more reporting but no analysis or contextualization.

I couldn’t tell from her bio wether the reporter - Pam Fessler - had ever even been student-poor, but I doubt it. But I found more troubling to be her failure of imagination.

This seems to be more and more common with journalists: a lack of critical thinking education or hard-knocks; greater acceptance of reporting with no critical thinking/analysis (probably to be more politically correct, or, conversely, to avoid the appearance of “bias”). Journalists are our guides into other lives, other worlds, and therefore often hold the keys to our old imaginings-- if their imaginations fails, what happens to ours?

Back to “Hunger in America”. Fessler seemed a bit baffled, like Rep. Bill Cassidy, by how obesity and hunger could come from the same place, and pointed towards parenting choices and budget. But I don’t think that is the whole-- or even the most-- of it.

Something that is often missed in discussions of food insecurity and thrifty genes is the psychological aspect, effects, and manifestations.

While my mother grew up hungry-poor, and I have certainly internalized some of her experiences, my hungry days were limited to my years in college. There were days when all I had to eat was a box of spaghetti and an onion. Luckily, I knew how to make do with this, but the minute I got to a party with m&m’s I would gorge myself. I don’t particularly like chocolate and didn’t spend my food money on it, but I didn’t know when I would get it again: I was literally food insecure and my thrifty genes kicked in, pushing me towards binging.

After college, I got a job and moved home. There was tons of food. But by then I had been re-trained to eat as much as possible-- after 4 years or so (importantly, while my brain was still "learning" and lacking/developing impulse control), my brain and body had gotten used to not knowing where my food was coming from, and I ate and ate the good stuff. Lucky for me, I thought the good stuff was pate’ and country bread. But in our culture, the good stuff is frequently anything you can’t have, or what someone else has, or what the T.V. says to eat...

During my 20s, my weight ballooned by 50-60 lbs. We are so used to wanting what we don’t have in this country, trying to get what isn’t here, and if you are poor, it is only sensible to hold on for dear life to what you can scrape together-- or eat as much of it as you can, while you have it.

For me personally, it has taken years of meditation to get over my 4 years of poverty (ok, and probably some of my mother’s food issues, too). It's hard to express how desperate one can feel to eat just one more piece of chocolate. But I do wish Pam Fessler had tried a little harder to do so.

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