When I was seven, my dad suddenly became was very sick. What the doctors initially thought was appendicitis turned out to be a nasty case of diverticulitis requiring emergency surgery. After the operation, he was in the hospital for three weeks. My brother and I went to stay with my grandparents in Jersey while he recovered. My grandparents, aunts and uncles watched over us that June and made sure we had plenty to do. My grandma and grandpa had a big house in Maplewood with a huge back yard. I remember roaming around the house, enjoying a trip to the beach and eating popcorn every night as a bedtime treat. I am sure that we were never bored, but I also know it unsettling to be away from our parents for so long. When they came to pick us up, I remember standing on my grandparent’s sprawling front porch, watching my mom help my dad out of the car and feeling my heart leap a bit – I was so glad to see them.
After he recuperated, my dad made key changes to his life. He started walking, then running about five miles a day to his job as an engineer at Kimberly Clark. He was determined and little stopped him from getting his daily exercise. Before long, he was running in local road races. My lovely mother brought him a healthy lunch every day, then drove back around five o’clock to give him a ride home. He usually had a large salad for dinner, which was an adjustment for someone who didn’t eat many vegetable before the surgery. Dad talked a lot about healthy food choices at our family’s nightly dinners.
Once, he decided that we should only use whole wheat flour. Wheat flour in the 70’s was not what it is today and I rebelled when my chocolate chip cookies suffered. Other than that, the effects of his “lectures” (as we kids called them) were positive. I already loved to bake, but I am sure that my father’s experience and his subsequent dietary changes are what sparked my intense interest in nutrition and in finding balance in my own diet.
I love anything to do with food. Cooking for my family is one of my greatest joys. I’ve taken classes at Kendall College, The French Pastry School and The Chopping Block and hope to take more in the future. My family volunteers at our local food pantry and Feed My Starving Children. I talk to my own children about their choices for meals and snacks. My kids are used to hearing me say “make sure to put some fruit on your plate” and seeing fresh green vegetables at dinner. They are used to having choices, meals cooked from scratch and lots of good food around the house. They are never really hungry. Except for my oldest, despite the volunteer work we do, I don’t think they truly understand that other kids in our city are not as fortunate as they are.
Over the weekend, I watched A Place at the Table, a movie about hunger in America. I learned a new term – food insecurity – meaning that you don’t know where your next meal will be coming from. Fifty million Americans are hungry every day and the effects of that hunger are staggering. Obesity and under-nutrition are close neighbors. Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are expensive but calorie-dense processed foods are cheap. Hungry children have difficulty focusing and learning in school. These are problems my kids don’t face but it is heartbreaking to know that children close to us have empty bellies daily and that their parents struggle to put good food on the table.
Tonight, I’ll show my kids a few minutes of the movie. Just as my dad did all those years ago, I hope to spark a little something in them. A need to help where they can, an awareness that they should be a be a bit more thankful for the abundance we enjoy and, with a little luck, a desire to help change the way our nation feeds its children. This powerful movie is currently in theaters and is available on-demand as well. If you are interested, here are links to a few excellent Chicago Tribune articles about A Place at the Table:
- "Place at the Table" gives face to invisible need
- "A Place at the Table" exposes the policies behind hunger