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Feeling the Hunger

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Feeling the Hunger

A few hundred area residents walk in the shoes of the hungry for a day

I only did it to support Chris Bessler. That’s because Chris, the owner of Keokee Publishing in Sandpoint, has always supported me—turn about is fair play, or something like that.

Chris supported it because his friend, Eric Rust, partnered in the idea in the first place. And Eric supported it because, “We were focusing on hunger and wanted to change both people’s bodies and their minds.”

“We” is Cedar Hills Church in Sandpoint, where Eric has been the pastor for ten years. The church had been involved with One Day to Feed the World, a faith-based program through Convoy of Hope that urges people to donate just one day’s wages each year to help address the issue of world hunger. Cedar Hills’ parishioners were planning to make a Christmas Eve donation to the program. 

Cedar Hills has focused on hunger at a local level before, but this year they wanted to step it up, so to speak. They wanted to learn a more global focus, plus they wanted to involve the greater community. The church kept the fundraising aspect in-house, not wanting to impose their agenda on others, but they decided to share the challenge of experiencing hunger with the community at large. News of their challenge spread via stories in the Bonner County Daily Bee, and through a website provided by Keokee Publishing.

So what was the challenge? On December 8, 2010 Chris, Eric, myself and many others (Eric estimates 400 to 500 people, including some in Europe!) spent 24 hours eating nothing but a half cup of rice, the approximate caloric equivalent of what nearly one billion people on this planet live on every single day.

One half cup of rice.

“We wanted to make [the idea of hunger] real to people, so we landed on this idea of a half cup of rice being the caloric equivalent of what so many people live on every day. David Keyes (publisher of the Daily Bee) was super supportive and Chris’ (Bessler) help was huge—we couldn’t have done this without him.”

The most recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (2009) says that 14.7 percent of the population right here in the United States were “food insecure.” They pointed out, “This remains the highest recorded prevalence rate of food insecurity since 1995 when the first national food security survey was conducted.” That’s about 50.2 million people, including 17.2 million children, right here in the U.S., who went to bed in 2009 at least some nights with an empty stomach. Does anybody think the situation has gotten better in the year since?

“Can’t go to the fridge. Ouch! Can I make it?” Garth D. Weme, 7:03 am

I have spent a day fasting many times before, usually by accident. I have gotten up, gone to work on the computer, gotten involved in what I’m doing and, before I knew it, it was evening and I hadn’t eaten all day. By which time the thought of food just wasn’t appealing, so I didn’t eat at all. Feel the Hunger was going to be, for me, a piece of cake. So to speak.

I had not considered the effect of focus. The night of the 7th, I dreamed about food. I woke up that morning and lay in bed thinking about what I should have for breakfast. Fried eggs? French toast? Corn Flakes with banana? This is something I never do. Then I remembered that I would be “feeling the hunger” all day. Breakfast would have to wait another day.

I was on my third cup of coffee before I wondered whether coffee was allowed. Was coffee part of the program? I went to the Feel the Hunger website to check it out... and found no real rules or guidelines on how a person was ‘supposed’ to participate.

“This was an open source deal,” laughed Eric. “There was no real organization behind it [and] no real rules.” 

That didn’t stop the people participating from making their own rules, however, and by doing so they revealed just how much success this event was having in making them think about the experience of hunger.

Comments from participants both at the event website and on the Feel the Hunger Facebook page demonstrated most people were taking this seriously—one half cup of rice, and only water to drink. I went to the trusty University of Google, and learned that coffee has approximately two calories per cup. Now drinking my fourth (and last) cup, I sadly removed two teaspoons of dry rice out of my portion for the day.

“So I’ve now decided that hot water is yummy. Isn’t it amazing how many different sounds the stomach can make when it’s hungry?” Jeni Clevenger, 10:50 am

Most all who participated were quick to recognize and acknowledge that hungry or not, we were all blessed by the availability of clean water. The World Water Council reports that 1.1 billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. Many of that 1.1 billion, of course, are the same people attempting to live on that caloric equivalent of one-half cup of rice each day. What does this mean? Here are a few stunning facts.

Half of the world’s hospitalizations are due to water-borne diseases. In a year, 3.575 million people, including 1.4 million children, die due to these diseases. In this, as in most things, the poor carry an inequitable burden: Poor people living in the slums often pay 5 to 10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city. 

“Drinking more hot water. Feeling lucky and blessed that I have clean drinking water.” Jennifer Bair Hauck, 1:20 pm

Hungry. It was all I could think about, and it wasn’t even noon yet. I have to admit, to begin with I didn’t see a lot of use in participating in this project. After all, I’m already aware of the issue of world hunger—going without food for a day wasn’t going to make me more aware than I was before... was it?

Maybe it was. I was tantalized by the thought of all the food in my cupboards, in my refrigerator, and in my freezer and believe me, I was more aware than ever before not just that a lot of the world is hungry, but that, for them, the ability to alleviate that hunger wasn’t lying just a few steps away.

“It was fun to watch the posts through the day,” said Eric. “We don’t realize how common food is to us. I [myself] went to the refrigerator twice that morning before I left the house.” Eric assumed that most who participated were at least somewhat aware of the issues around hunger prior to the fast, but added, “People were still shocked by how used we are to eating whenever we want. And this is while over half the world’s population struggles to find food.”

I have been hungry before. There was a time in my life, many years and many miles away, when I was definitely “food insecure.” I worked as a waitress at a restaurant, though, so on the days I worked, I would eat the food people left on their plates. Seems kind of gross now, but it wasn’t then. Hunger puts a different perspective on things. And even though I was ‘food insecure,’ I was lucky. Because here in America, people leave a lot of food on their plates.

You’d think with that experience behind me, I wouldn’t waste food, but I had to admit, as I went through this day with my tummy grumbling, that yes, I waste a lot of food. The leftovers that sit in the fridge ‘til they get thrown out; those last little bits left over from cooking dinner that don’t get eaten, yet don’t seem to be enough to be worth saving; the food I scrape into the animals’ dish when I, as my father always put it, let my eyes overload my belly; the food that, for one reason or another, I just don’t want to eat, like the potato peels when making mashed potatoes. I was ashamed, thinking of hunger in the world, to realize just how much I take food for granted.

And I’m not alone. A New York Times story in 2008 reported, “As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food—an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study—and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.”

“Amazing how central food is to my daily experience. Our whole office is participating, and I’ve sensed a lower level of energy all day today.” Eric Rust 4:23 pm

 I’m hungry, my head hurts and I feel dizzy. It’s been almost 24 hours since I had ‘real’ food. Isn’t that long enough?” Stephanie Miller-Hiatt 4:40 pm

“Feeling the hunger and having a hard time concentrating.” Julia Pugh early afternoon

When you eat a meal, for approximately the next three hours your body digests that food, generating energy from the carbohydrates and fat, and storing the excess. For those of us who participated in Feel the Hunger, that process took place the night before, after dinner.

By morning, our bodies had moved into the early fasting state. Not being replenished with breakfast, we turned to our stored energy to supply our needs. The glycogen in our liver had already mostly been consumed during sleep—the brain gobbles up a lot, and it doesn’t stop just because we’re sleeping. That left us the glycogen stored in muscles, amino acids, and body fat as resources to get through the day. (Plus, let’s not forget, that half cup of rice at some point.)

Generally, in the early fasting stage, energy levels are somewhat depleted, and people report being colder (as the body is devoting less of its energy to keeping you warm); obviously, this is experienced earlier by thin people. 

Many suffer headaches, often caused by dehydration though some may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to caffeine deprivation. They can also be brought on by simple physical activity. A headache from fasting is so common, in fact, they’re known as “Ramadan headaches.” Those of the Muslim religion fast throughout the day during the month of Ramadan, and headaches are a common side effect.

As blood sugar lowers, symptoms can include shakiness, sweating, irritability, blurred vision and poor concentration.

By late morning, I myself was experiencing nausea and shakiness, but I suspect that was due to four cups of coffee on an empty stomach.

“Being hungry makes kind of background noise for the day - a little hard to concentrate on other things.” Chris Bessler 10:47 am

By late afternoon, I was fantasizing about food. Seriously. It was ridiculous. But I wasn’t alone. “Cheeseburger” was Lenny Hess’s succinct post on Facebook around 5:21 pm.

My cats chose not to participate in Feel the Hunger and I found myself envious when filling (and filling, and filling) their food bowl during the day. Cats are pigs.

Brother Joe also did not participate, and quite enjoyed not sharing the meatballs that Mother made for dinner. She also sent over donuts, which I thought was pretty snarky considering my hunger pains, even though I don’t like donuts.

As Americans, we eat a lot. The average American, in fact, eats close to 2,000 pounds of food per year, including 24 pounds of candy, 31 pounds of cheese, 126 pounds of potatoes, 110 pounds of meat, 32 pounds of eggs, 24 pounds of coffee and a little over 400 pounds of vegetables. According to the USDA, we’re eating, on average, around 2,775 calories every day... or about 2,655 calories more than today’s half cup of rice was offering, and almost 40 percent more than we need to live.

“I’m surprised at how challenging this is. The 1/2 cup of rice was not very filling. I am feeling nervous, and recognizing how we take food for granted. On a trip to the hardware store, anything edible seems appealing!” Kris Dills, around 4 pm

“It was nice of the rice to puff up to 1 and 1/2 cups.” Kathy Osborne, 7:50 am

I gave up and ate my rice around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. When to eat was an individual decision. Some cooked their rice in the morning and snacked on it throughout the day. Others divided their half cup into breakfast, lunch and dinner portions. Others, like me, ate it all at once and wanted more.

“I made it through the day eating the first half portion of rice at lunch time. I just finished the second half of my portion of rice. Mmmm, mmm, yummy to my tummy! You can bet I made sure to scrape every last grain out of that pan.” Sandy Bessler, 5:35 pm

“A day of mindfulness and extreme gratitude. Ready to fully appreciate my rice tonight and my full cupboards waiting for me tomorrow. We are so lucky.” Tea Aunan, 7 pm

I don’t fool myself that Feel the Hunger made any big changes in the way people think about hunger, and certainly not in what they do about it. Many participants donated to the local food bank the money or the food they would have consumed that day, but the nation as a whole would need to “Feel the Hunger” on a frequent basis—maybe even weekly—to see any real change in the issue of food insecurity.

As a church project to raise funds, however, the event was more successful; on Christmas Eve, Cedar Hills parishioners had donated $18,300 to be given to Convoy of Hope.

Of course, even $18,000 won’t do much to alleviate world hunger, but that doesn’t mean there was no value to the project. “Much protest is naive,” wrote Wendell Berry in “A Poem of Difficult Hope,” part of his 1990 book of essays, What are People For? “...it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come.”

Eric would agree. “We despise small beginnings, but the only way lasting change starts is in our hearts,” he said.

Berry, in fact, goes on to say that achieving  a goal is not always the best end to a form of protest; instead, he posits, the best protest is that which addresses ourselves. “Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

“Something happens within us,” Eric said. “Something changes. Everything we do makes a difference.”

“I took my girls to the store (on an empty stomach) to shop for food to donate to others, with their own money. I think they actually enjoyed that part. All in all, I think it was a much needed experience for all of us. And we should do it more often than just around the holidays.” Rachel Bovee

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

food, Chris Bessler, Keokee Publishing, Sandy Bessler, Kathy Osborne, Feel the Hunger, Cedar Hills Church, Eric Rust, One Day to Feed the World, Garth Weme, Jeni Clevenger, Jennifer Bair Hauck, Stephanie Miller-Hiatt, Julie Pugh, hunger, fasting, Lenny Hess, Kris Dills, Tea Aunan, Wendell Berry, What are People For?, A Poem of Difficult Hope, Rachel Bovee

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