Nothing Like Missing the Point: the Hunger Challenge Responses

Full disclosure: My partner is responsible for Hunger Action Week and I have been volunteering with UWKC on Hunger Action Week outreach.  This post reflects my views, not those of United Way of King County.

Not sure what I’m talking about?  Search #hungerchallenge to follow the debate.  Or perform a Google blog search for Hunger Challenge.

It’s Hunger Action Week and people across Seattle and King County are participating in the Hunger Challenge*.  The Hunger Challenge is an experiment in empathy for people who have never experienced poverty or food insecurity.  It’s a gimmick.  It’s meant to start a conversation, to expose people to the inequality that is growing every day in this nation.

The Hunger Challenge is not real life.  It’s can’t be, it’s five days of living on the maximum benefit for an individual.  It’s not even reality for most individuals receiving benefits.  In order to receive the max an individual could only earn $6000 for the year.  People won’t walk away with a new, intimate understanding of poverty.   That doesn’t make the Challenge “poverty tourism”.  The Challenge is simply one way to help people grasp the concept of hunger in America while raising awareness about it.

Unfortunately the discussion is becoming more about the methods and “concerns” of individual participants and less about hunger.  People are dividing Hunger Challengers into groups of people who are doing it “right” and people who are doing it “wrong”.  There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s bizarre to think that putting away the “gadgets” constitutes the right way to do it, as if low-income Americans might not own a blender or an inexpensive rice cooker or know how to cook.  Some people own equipment and some don’t.  Some people know how to cook and some people don’t, regardless of income.

Let’s not focus on how people are participating or if one sentence that smacks of privilege.  People who have the ability to take the challenge are, by definition, privileged.  The majority of participants realize that.  Writing about going without coffee is a way of putting that privilege in context and wrapping their heads around the issue of hunger.

No participant is seeking for sympathy because they have to give up their $4 latte.  Regardless, critics have used an admission of “cheating” or “complaint” about the lack of coffee or the ability to create a béchamel sauce to scream, “INAUTHENTIC!”  It has given people the opportunity to dial-up their righteous indignation and showcase their moral superiority.  Sadly, the Challenge has provided an opening for people to denounce participants as dilettantes and posers.  There is an infuriating liberal tendency to dismiss thoughts from people on certain subjects because said people are perceived to be privileged.  They can’t possibly speak on whatever because their reality is different.  That’s what we have here.

Recriminations get us nowhere.  The point of the Hunger Challenge is to spark conversation and encourage action.  We can go after people who don’t appear to be living up to our standards or are inarticulate as they learn something about hunger. Or we can foster a discussion about why Hunger Action Week is necessary in 2011.  If we choose to attack people, we shift the conversation away from hunger and onto the way that someone is participating.  We put that person on the defensive; they are no longer thinking about hunger, but defending themselves.

Some of the posts are asinine and of course they would be.  The United Way has invited everyone to participate and share their thoughts on blogs and Twitter and Facebook.  A rumor started that there was free food at a Panda Express on the Eastside.  Some people joked that “my dinner plans were solved.”  Did they go?  I’m not sure, they haven’t posted about it.  And even if they had, so what?  Not everyone is taking it seriously or thinking about what it means.  That doesn’t mean the challenge is without a point.

The majority of Hunger Challengers are taking the week seriously and are raising awareness about an issue that often doesn’t get enough coverage.  Participants are asking questions.  One wondered if her gym membership, one way she stays healthy, would be possible if her food budget were seven dollars a day.  Another wanted to find out if healthy meals can be created with what is typically found at a food bank.  Still another realized that money is not the only factor when it comes to hunger – there is time as well.  She has attempted to prepare meals that only take 30 minutes or less.

The Hunger Challenge, whatever your take on it, has started a conversation.  Our job, proponents, participants, and critics alike it to make sure that it doesn’t end on Friday.  Budget cuts are coming, we have to make sure that programs like Basic Food, SNAP, and funding for community health centers stay intact.  We have to visit our legislators and call our congressional representatives.  We can end hunger in our community, in our country.  We just have to work together.

*The Hunger Challenge isn’t even the focus of Hunger Action Week.  It’s simply the most public and the easiest way for people to enter the week.  The far more important parts of the week are the efforts to raise funds to fight hunger, the opportunities to learn and volunteer, and the calls to action.

2 Responses to “Nothing Like Missing the Point: the Hunger Challenge Responses”
  1. marisa says:

    For the record, I’m the person who cried “dilettante”.Dilettante Fucktard to be exact. I’m a chef who used to volunteer at Fare Start and First Place School when I lived in Seattle. Have you ever had to tell a homeless kid, sorry, only one milk, and then go throw away rolling racks full of salmon at Paul Allen’s Boeing hangar? I’m an expert on this, thank you very much.
    I was on food stamps when I hacked my hand in half and couldn’t work for 3 months.. I am the furthest away from liberal you could hope to get. It’s the effing liberal “oh, poor poor people” bullshit that makes me the sickest. “I hope it’s never me, I don’t know how they do it, waaa waaa waaa”. I still stand by my comment that maybe everyone who bemoans the poverty diet in their whiny liberal blog posts should donate that $49 to the UWKC or SHUT IT. Period.

    • Michael Edward Kelly says:

      Thanks Marisa. I get it. Some of the posts annoyed the hell out of me too. You’re always going to have that. Not everyone has the experience or intimate knowledge that you and others do. People have the start somewhere to gain the knowledge and the Hunger Challenge is one imperfect way to do it. These people are being honest in relating their experiences. I would also argue, if you read their posts, most of the understand this is nothing like truly being food insecure. To reject what they are doing out of hand or call them a tool, does no good – other than to make you feel superior.

      We need everyone on board to end hunger and homelessness, even the people who are just learning. But if you insult them out for being privileged elitists or not knowing what they’re talking about you’re left with a movement of true believers and absolutists. And that movement collapses in on itself. And we accomplish nothing.

      We can spend time identifying

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