I’ll admit, I’m as bad as the next grandchild at calling my grandparents as often as I should. I make excuses, I get busy with friends or work, and sometimes go weeks without talking to them. But when I do actually get into conversation with them, not simple how’s the weather small talk, but actual deep conversation, I’m always amazed by what they say. From the stories they tell, it’s like they lived in an entirely different country growing up.
I was fortunate to spend Thanksgiving with my grandmother in Texas. She’s spent most of her life there and she’s big into genealogy. She’s somehow managed to trace my hodgepodge of relatives back about 18 generations. (It might be more than that, I can’t remember, if it is, sorry grandma!)
She knows most of the history, but I find the things she tells me about her life the most interesting. Over break I was looking through her photo albums (of which she has many). Most of the pictures have faded slightly over time, in sepia and black and white tones. Some at the beach, some at various houses. There were many pictures of my great grandma and later my grandma holding chubby babies in bone thin arms.
“Y’all were all so skinny back then,” I told her.
“Well we didn’t have anything to eat,” she replied.
The idea of not having much to eat is so foreign to me. Even now as I type, I’m eating an apple. I complain that I’m starving to friends when I have to wait to eat dinner past 8 and if I’m really hungry I can just go to the Wendy’s that is about half a mile from my house.
“Growing up,” she said. “We didn’t ask for seconds. There was rarely any food left over and if there was any, it went to Daddy. Because he worked.”
The man got the most food because he needed energy to work, she went on to say. The kids ate the second most because they were growing and needed strength. Mother ate whatever was left.
My grandfather, who has since passed away, would sometimes tell me stories of his youth while I stayed with them in Texas too. He didn’t speak as often about his childhood. He was a twin and they were the youngest of 14 children. Their parents (Irish immigrants, I believe) were poor farmers. He began working around the farm to help out at a very young age. There were many nights when he went to bed still hungry.
After he retired he grew many of his own vegetables. In most of my childhood memories he is in a ratty old white t-shirt (shirts my grandmother and I would cut up when he wasn’t looking) checking his green bean and tomato plants, debating whether or not to add another layer of fencing to keep the deer out.
Wasting food would make him upset. I used to not understand why it mattered that I would throw away a half eaten sandwich. But now, realizing what they had grown up with, I do.
Unfortunately there are still many people throughout the world who know hunger. There are many people in the US, many people in your hometown who don’t have enough to eat. Stopping food waste is simple- buy what you know you will use and save your leftovers. (Second day pizza is even better than first day pizza anyways.) You can also donate to local or national hunger charities or volunteer at your local soup kitchen.
For more facts about hunger in America visit Feeding America
For more facts about global hunger visit Bread for the World