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Labun Jordan: An End To Hunger

09/24/12 7:55AM By Helen Labun Jordan
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(Host) Commentator Helen Labun Jordan is the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project Director at the Vermont Council on Rural Development. She's also a board member of the Vermont Foodbank. And she would like to see more understanding that hunger is a problem in Vermont - one that we should be addressing far more aggressively.

(Labun Jordan) Conventional wisdom for getting folks to pay attention to a cause, any cause, is to lead with a story - for the very good reason that we all enjoy a story. The tricky part of stories, though, is that talking in anecdotes can make it easier for us to believe a problem isn't far-reaching, especially when it's one we don't intuitively associate with our home here in Vermont.

September is national hunger awareness month. And ‘hunger' is one of those non-intuitive Vermont problems. It's hard to imagine anyone could go hungry here. After all, we're surrounded by food, from farm fields to grocery shelves. But hunger is complicated. And by the time someone experiences the physical condition of hunger a lot of things have gone wrong.

Hunger is one part of what's called ‘food security' - which is a way of talking about what it means to have enough food today and to know that you'll also have enough tomorrow.

In 2010, 14% of Vermont households were food insecure. That puts us in the middle of the national pack. But when you look at degrees of insecurity, at who's at greatest risk, we're the 11th hungriest state. Also in 2010, 86,000 Vermonters needed emergency food assistance. Shocks like Irene or an economic recession bump those numbers higher.

Then there's nutrition. Are we getting the foods we need? Almost a third of Vermonters report they can't afford enough food or enough nutritious food.

And food security affects our children. Nutrition is crucial to their development and ability to learn. But more than 12,000 Vermont children rely on food shelves every month. And nearly 40% of our students are eligible for free and reduced price school lunches.

Now, remember that we're living in a country that produces far more food than we need - enough so that we waste about 40% of everything we produce. The food on our plates moves through a distribution system that is faster and further reaching than ever before. Here in Vermont that food system enjoys more popular attention than probably anywhere else in America, and it's tied into traditionally close knit communities where neighbors look out for each other.

In other words - finding a solution to hunger is never going to get easier than it is right now, and right here.

Yet providing food for everyone remains a problem. It is, in fact, the world's oldest public policy issue. We've formed whole civilizations around it; we've been in this boat together since the first hunter got help from the first gatherer.

And here's the point where statistics fail us and anecdotes come in, because in some ways the numbers don't matter - even one story of people in our state going hungry is too many. The reason why we don't intuitively associate this problem with Vermont is that we shouldn't.

September is hunger awareness and action month, and we've got one week left. Perhaps that's not enough time to completely solve hunger, but it's enough to get started.

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