Thinking about eating


Minnesota Foodshare Month kicked off March 1, with the state’s biggest annual food drive to stock about 300 food shelves from Ada to Zumbrota.

Half of all the food distributed through food shelves comes in through this food drive, according to Governor Mark Dayton’s Foodshare Month proclamation, and food shelf use in Minnesota is at a historic high level. While Minnesota’s unemployment rate continues to drop and the economy improves, plenty of hungry people still need a hand, especially children and seniors. Hunger Solutions reports that 36 percent of metro area food shelf visitors have a working adult in the family. A few other facts from the Foodshare campaign:

From 2008 to 2010, visits to food shelves increased by 62% statewide, according to Hunger Solutions. In the nine-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, the jump was an even more startling 97%.

According to a September 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 10.3% of Minnesotans live in households that sometimes struggle to get enough food.

You can give food, or you can give cash to the campaign. There’s something very satisfying about filling up a bag of groceries, but food shelves can stretch your dollar further, because they can take advantage of discounts and special programs. Want to donate? Here’s the site.

Now that you have joined me in donating — (You didn’t? Go back and click right now.) — here are a few other thoughts about food and community.

Yes, community. Food is one of our great connectors. “Breaking bread together” is an important part of Christian tradition. Welcoming guests and sharing food is an important part of Arab culture. East African dining includes sharing food from a common plate. The list goes on: India, the Philippines, New Zealand, Cameroon … sharing food may be a universal way to offer friendship and build community.

Food can test the bonds of community and humanity. Watching “Grapes of Wrath” a few nights ago, I saw the mother of the family agonize over whether to share her family’s sparse rations with the children of the camp, who had not eaten in days. I thought about famine and food shortages around the world, where families face painful decisions on who can eat and who must go hungry, again.

People coming together around food can strengthen the bonds of community. In Minnesota, we have the powerful example of communities growing around CSA farms — community supported agriculture — and around urban community gardens and growing numbers of urban market gardens and farms. (At this writing, I haven’t yet heard today’s Minneapolis city council decision on market gardens and the city policy on urban agriculture.)

Food connects not only the people sitting around a table, but also policies and issues from protection of the Mississippi River to workers’ rights to immigration policy. The big issues and federal legislative decisions are important, but so are the small gardens and city policies — and so are your contributions to Minnesota Foodshare Month.