By Brenda Ling
In the Ling household, my brother, sisters and I were not allowed to leave the table until we had eaten every morsel of food on our plates. Our mother often said, "Think of all the starving children in China!" For me and most people in America, China was just someplace half a world away. But my mother, who had survived through years of famine in the old country, understood that the next meal was not always forthcoming. She understood the hunger that more than 840 million of the world's people have to deal with every day.
October 16 is World Food Day, the 24th annual observance to increase awareness and understanding. It also involves taking steps toward alleviating hunger. On Oct. 13 and 14, the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, along with several organizations including the University of North Dakota and Red River Valley Community Action, will sponsor a "Hunger in the Heartland Conference" at the Holiday Inn in Grand Forks. This event will highlight efforts underway in North Dakota to deal with food insecurity, the problem of obtaining enough food at all times. The event is free and open to the public.
The numbers of people who go hungry are staggering. An estimated 1.2 billion people, or 1 in 5, live on less than $1 a day. Yet, hunger is not something that happens solely in poor countries far away. Americans, indeed North Dakotans, go hungry too.
It may be hard to believe that in the heartland of America, where the bulk of the nation's food supply is cultivated and processed, there are those who worry about getting enough food. Because Americans have the safest and most accessible food supply, and more than half of us are overweight or obese, these statistics are especially hard to fathom. Still, one in nine U.S. households is food insecure, that is, lacking consistent access to enough food at all times for active, healthy living. What's more, children from food insecure households experience more illness and poorer school performance than their food-secure neighbors.
The irony lies in the abundance that is all around us. North Dakota leads the nation in the production of at least 11 crops and is among the top three states in producing wheat, honey, lentils, and sugar beets.
At the same time, we have the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, a program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, feeding more than 31,000 people, about half of them children, each month in North Dakota. Nearly 5 million pounds of food are distributed annually by the Great Plains Food Bank to more than 205 agencies statewide.
The elderly are also at risk. As our aging population grows, food insecurity among the elderly will require greater understanding. North Dakota is one of the top 10 states with the highest concentration of persons age 65 and older. Limited means, limited resources, social isolation, and access are only a few factors shaping the food needs of the elderly.
There is more to World Food Day than food. It is about making a difference in helping the well-being of those who may not be in positions to help themselves, such as children and the elderly. It is about providing a forum where ideas and programs can be shared. The question, "Where do we go from here," will be an integral part of the Hunger in the Heartland Conference. This brings ownership of the problem of food insecurity to all stakeholders in the state, from private organizations, food producing groups, schools, government agencies and nonprofit service providers, to individuals like you and me.