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Talking Back to Hunger

a hungry child visits an outdoor food pantry during COVID-19

Roger Thurow shares a poem evoking the human face of domestic hunger — an issue that is too often forgotten in policy discussions.

Just two days after his inauguration, President Joe Biden moved to shorten, if not eliminate, the epic lines of Americans desperate for food assistance. "This is the United States of America, and they are waiting to feed their kids," the president said. "These are not the values of our nation. We cannot, will not let people go hungry."

That day he signed an executive order to increase benefits to families struggling to put enough food on the table—an estimated one in seven American households during the pandemic. He followed that with his $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan to provide further relief to families reeling from lost jobs and diminished income.

Now the size of that relief is at the mercy of legislative haggling and budget tightening and bureaucratic choke points.

And, in all of this wrangling, the people waiting in those lines—and those lines are still there, lengthening—become numbers, data points, blips on the chart of a dense PowerPoint.

Which is the powerful point of storytelling, to keep the faces, words, and emotions front and center, as the proposed benefit amounts are trimmed, cut, slashed, and proposals, like raising the minimum wage, are put off for another day.  The numbers on the spreadsheets all have names.

That was the inspiration for Aaron Whitehead of Arlington, Virginia, who does his storytelling as AaronR The Poet.  Like the president, he too had observed the lines of fellow citizens—the lines seemingly without end—circling the nation’s food pantries. And he became a poet-in-residence of the Capital Area Food Bank at the suggestion of Hiram Larew, who had launched the Poetry X Hunger movement, which seeks to talk back to hunger in all manner of verse.

At the height of the pandemic, Aaron visited the food bank. He was stunned by the vastness of the warehouse, the fleet of forklifts shifting the mountains of food, the multitude of people pitching in to help. And then he followed the food to a church, expecting to see maybe a couple dozen people gathered.

“Driving into the parking, it’s like a concert line, people waiting all day,” he recalls. He saw mothers with babies, senior citizens, people arriving before work, people coming after work (because their work wasn’t paying enough to feed the family as well as pay the rent, utility bills, medical expenses, car repairs). This is in the nation’s capital, he thought, with all the nation’s resources.  He could just imagine what was happening in the rest of the country.

What if hunger was a person?

On the way home, he wondered: What if hunger was a person? “What if I was hunger?  I’d like to tell people, ‘This is what is happening.’ I’m right in your face. I’m taking your children, your parents. What are you going to do about me?”

And so he penned, “My Name is Hunger” and produced a video.

I shall now stop the prose and yield to the poetry.  Please give it a read and watch. And ask: 

What are we going to do about it?

About the Author
Senior Fellow, Global Food and Agriculture
Headshot for Roger Thurow
Roger Thurow spent three decades at The Wall Street Journal as foreign correspondent based in Europe and Africa prior to joining the Council in 2010. His coverage spanned the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of apartheid, and humanitarian crises. He is the author of three books.
Headshot for Roger Thurow