Fifteen years ago I spent part of a summer working with young children in a slum halfway around the world from here. We were teaching kids preschool, so we were covering basic things they needed to know in order to be ready for kindergarten when they were old enough. One of the topics was different animals—you know, the kind of thing you talk about with young kids all over the world. What’s a chicken? What does a chicken say? What about a duck: what does a duck do? What does a duck say? And so on. What about a dog? What does a dog say? What does a dog do? A dog bites me, one kid says. Everyone in the room laughs. A dog helps me find food in the trash heap outside my house, another kid adds. Whoa. No more laughter. Just exchanges of sad, knowing looks among the teachers.
Hunger is reality in this world, and more often than not, it is something people are born into or forced into, not something that happens because of bad decisions made by particular individuals. When my grandmother was a little girl, coffee soup and dandelion soup made regular appearances on her small family’s menu. Like the kids I helped in that slum, she didn’t ask to be born into a family that couldn’t afford to feed her. And her family worked hard, just like the families of kids all over the world. They just lived where there wasn’t enough: enough jobs, enough money, enough food. So my grandmother ate soups that weren’t really soup, and these beautiful children I fell in love with followed dogs across trash mounds to scavenge for food that wasn’t really food. Continue reading