What should we – individually and collectively – be doing differently about hunger issues in our community?
To begin to deal with a problem as pervasive as food insecurity is in the Mid-South, you have to begin by acknowledging some truths. Since 2010, citizens of the Mid-South have had the opportunity to read, to see and to hear, in our local media, that Memphis ranks right at the top for being one of the hungriest cities in the nation. But there is a huge difference between being aware of information as stunning as this and actually comprehending it. Comprehension is fundamental in leading change – in any arena. Because the majority of citizens in the Mid-South do not struggle with food insecurity, we cannot possibly comprehend what it means to be the one child in five who goes to bed hungry wondering where their next meal is coming from.
Comprehension leads to conviction which leads to action.Those who do not comprehend are slow to act. Those who do not comprehend do not engage in solving the problem. At this stage of the game, I do not believe it does any good to find a place to lay blame for this injustice. Frankly, that is not the way to solve this problem. The way to solve this problem is simple – 1. Get as many people as possible to comprehend what it means to experience this injustice. 2. Get as many people as possible to comprehend what is being done to solve this problem in the Mid-South. 3. Get as many people as possible to engage in multiplying what is already working in the Mid-South to begin to solve the problem of food insecurity.
In 1990 a Harvard professor named Jerry Sternin and his wife went to Viet Nam to work on the issue of hunger for Save the Children. Half the children in Viet Nam were malnourished and the Sternins only had six months to make something happen. Out of sheer desperation, they had an inspired idea – let’s identify what is working and then let’s engage people in cloning what is working. We can do that in Memphis, Tennessee – but – as Sternin teaches – we need to engage everyone in identifying, tracking and cloning what is working. If we continue to live with a structure of “the haves” reaching down and handing out to the “have nots”… then our community will miss the opportunity to begin to solve this problem.
We need to continue, using the model of A Taste of Hunger, to develop ways to sit down at diverse dinner tables and share the experience of food disparity with a guest list that looks like this: hungry men, women and children; faith leaders; business leaders; educational leaders; social service leaders. The table conversations should be framed around resources and information that will allow people to comprehend the problem and the solutions that are already at play. This is the way you catalyze a community for change. This is the way you begin to tap the talent and the energy and the innovation that resides in people who are hungry – people who are full – and people who are committed to change the face of hunger in Memphis, Tennessee.