I often gaze out the kitchen window, with filled coffee mug in hand, to watch birds and other wildlife have breakfast in the backyard. There is something about them with which I identify. This morning offered a most interesting feeding session.

The bird feeder is positioned to thwart the squirrels from the opportunity of gorging themselves. As I watched, two gray, bushy-tailed squirrels were on the ground scurrying for seed and nuts, as a blue jay pounced on the feeder and sent seed to the ground. Once the squirrels had their fill (do they ever have their fill), additional blue jays came to feed. It was quite a sight. It lead me to think, if squirrels and blue jays can cooperate to solve hunger, it seems to me humanity can.

Last weekend, together with approximately 150 Maine college and university students, I had the pleasure to participate in the Maine Cooperative Extension “Maine Hunger Dialogue” event.  The two day event included breakout sessions to work on new campus hunger projects, networking opportunities, and presentations by various organizations, professors, and food topic experts. It’s an inspiring and hopeful experience to engage with eager and energetic students. They are a blank slate of sorts, while at the same time, full of ideas of how to solve current world problems. We worked on mini-grants offered by the Extension and largely funded by Bangor Savings Foundation. An opportunity was presented by youmustact.org to assemble pasta meals to be taken home for distribution to the hungry. These dry goods, pasta meals can be further enhanced with home ingredients. Assembling the meals alongside the students was a fun experience. Should this whole Community Visionary thing not work out, I feel confident I’ve learned a new marketable skill!

Many of the event ideas presented, centered on meeting the needs of hungry students. This is a seemingly invisible need, but I argue these students are not invisible. We are too often not recognizing symptoms of hunger. The hungry person is experiencing stomach pain, lack of focus, inattention, and fatigue. These symptoms present outwardly as behavioral issues, dizziness, fainting, falling grades, and changes in personality. It’s important to note that just because someone looks overweight, this is no indication of being fed. Hunger is not about calories, it is about unmet nutritional needs.

We often think of meeting the needs of the hungry in terms of foodbanks and other free food opportunities. We may design food recovery programs of unused edible food for redistribution to the hungry and fill backpacks with food for homeward bound students. These are what I consider unsustainable, band-aid approaches, but are effective boots-on-the-ground methods to stop specific incidences of hunger.

Sustainable approaches to ending hunger are complicated. Solutions are riddled with challenges such as inequitable distribution of resources, climate change, and lack of appropriate infrastructure. They are however, essential to pursue. What may be sustainable approaches to fighting hunger?

  • Form a program with a goal of empowerment and independence — a program which teaches about hunger, gleaning projects, food pantry development and soup kitchens.
  • Save seeds, give them away, and partner with your neighbor or agency in planting school and community gardens or your own garden with an eye to planting enough to share.
  • Teach or sponsor a class on cooking creatively on a budget. “Cooking Matters”, funded in large part by nokidhungry.org and in Maine, in partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank, offers some wonderful cooking class opportunities.
  • Understand food doesn’t have to meet market standards to be beautiful and edible. Fresh produce is often wasted simply because it is deformed or scarred. Think “who goes hungry when we throw away edible food”?
  • Check out farmfromabox.com program which provides a comprehensive system for sustainable food producing.
  • Think outside the box. Intriguing idea from Lexington, KY allows citizens to pay parking tickets with donations of canned vegetables and high protein food to feed the hungry.
  • Donate your time or other resources to national organizations, such as endhunger.org, nokidhungry.org. Look for a local program or start your own.

Hunger is an intense, physical pain which prevents you from thinking of anything else. No words can adequately describe how it feels. For those of us who have sufficiency, Thanksgiving 2015 offers us the opportunity to share our bounty. For all of us, it can be a time for reflecting on solving hunger and the represented injustice. Charity is not justice, but can provide for sustainable opportunities for empowerment and independence.