Friday, November 11, 2011

Rabbi Steve Gutow: Hunger is a Form of Slavery

Rabbi  Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, recently took the Food Stamp Challenge, which gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans.

Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on about $4 per day worth of food – the average food stamp benefit. Challenge participants are forced to make difficult food shopping choices, and often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy.

While the challenge is primarily a practical exercise, there is a spiritual element in stepping back and living life with less.  

The difference between people like me  and those with limited means is that after taking the challenge we can go back to our middle-class lifestyle.  Rabbi Gutow offers his experiences in an article he wrote  in The Huffington Post

Here are the first two paragraphs
Looking at my dwindling stash of food the last few days caused me strange sensations of fear, fragility, and questions about the world. I admit I was a little dizzy at times and euphoric at other times. I was bored with what I was eating, concentrating on husbanding my last drops of yoghurt, milk, and corn flakes. Eating my first non-food stamp meal yesterday at a New York Indian restaurant with my good friend, John Ruskay, where the meal itself cost close to $25.00, showed me in high relief what the challenge could not allow.

As a Jew I remember that in Egypt my people were enslaved thousands of years ago. Hunger is a form of slavery and my mind kept focusing on the time in Egypt. On Passover we say that we were slaves in Egypt intending to show that we are part of an ongoing recollection of that period in the history of my people. The end of the food stamp challenge filled me with a deeper capacity to empathize. I felt that not only were we slaves but as I stared at the attrition of my food supply, I felt like I understood the Israelite condition more than I had ever understood it before. We were slaves as the liturgy taught but I felt like I was a slave and that I will now be even more a slave to the ongoing need to stop hunger among my people all through the world.

People from all walks of life have taken the challenge: social workers, anti-hunger activists, students accountants, lawyers, clergy and many others. Proponents are especially interested in participation from members of Congress. That's why they created this handy toolkit.   Reps. Barbara Lee of California, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts have taken the challenge. In this time of difficult budget decisions, wouldn't it be great if all members of Congress took the challenge? 

No comments: