Growing up in poverty in the Watts projects in Los Angeles, I was dependent on free and low cost school meals. Today, I am a foodie, someone who plans a vacation around the food and not the destination because of my childhood experiences.
Like my taste palate, my life has been shaped by both the good and the bad that I experienced growing up in poverty and food insecurity, never being adopted and breaking free from foster care. .
Food insecurity defined my childhood. I lived in a food desert that required grocery shopping primarily at the liquor store down the street, which did not have access to fresh, healthy food. On the weekends, I threw strangers birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese mixing in groups of kids, just so my family could get pizza and other delicious food on the tables. festive.
But my main source of food when I was a kid was school lunches.
Like so many others, my lunch was decided by what was most accessible that day. I learned early on that food was a precarious thing – from moldy pizza trash bags my parents brought home from work to little milk cartons and tiny “ghetto” Jell-O containers with small lids. budget in the homeless shelters that we ate. the weekend at the party food I collected at Chuck E. Cheese.
One of the things I learned quickly before entering the foster care system at age 14 was that food was either your enemy or your friend. Some days it tasted like a refreshing Strawberry Slurpee on Mercury-melting Watts afternoons, but other days it could taste like a salmonella sub without the soda pop. ginger in sight. So, yes, eating has always been a precarious suspension of time with every bite.
I can now see as an adult how my childhood palate has been shaped by my situation. Hot dogs on a fork for dinner were my weekly specialty. School lunches became my main meals – the square shaped pepperoni was an all time favorite.
Because of my childhood experiences, I decided to attend the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, where I graduated with a Masters in Social Work. I became one of the founding members of the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) Homelessness Action Committee here in Los Angeles. I helped create local campaigns and shared my story, as so many others have, to lobby for policy changes.
I am now a mom for the first time. And I’m still learning to eat healthy because I want a healthy family. Even as an adult, I learn new lessons about healthy eating, especially watching children’s shows like Michelle Obama’s Netflix series âWaffles + Mochiâ.
Although things have changed for me, food insecurity remains a major problem across the country. The US Department of Agriculture found that nearly 15 percent of households with children did not have enough food to feed the whole family last year. Millions of school-aged children depend on free or discounted school meals to survive.
Researchers have long recognized the vital link between learning and meeting basic dietary needs, and policymakers have adopted various and state policies to alleviate food insecurity. Schools are already an important base for tackling food insecurity across the country through school meal programs.
But there is still a lot of work to be done. We need short and long term solutions to deal with the current food insecurities that students face every day.
In the short term, we need to take a holistic approach to food insecurity by providing more comprehensive services to school-aged children and their families.
This can be done by launching on-site food fairs in schools on back-to-school evenings and parent conferences to connect families with ongoing food support. Allowing community partners, nonprofits, food banks, local food drives, and church food programs to be on site can provide resources for the whole family rather than just the children.
At state and national levels, policymakers can develop programs that build bridges between on-site school resources and local community entities. The USDA already has a long-standing policy that allows staff in children’s nutrition programs to donate surplus food to food banks, homeless shelters, and other nonprofit organizations, “when they don’t. it is not possible to reuse the leftovers.. “
In the long run, however, it will take more than school curricula to break free from the bonds of food insecurity and systematically provide food for all children. Reducing bureaucracy and creating new opportunities so that every family rises above the poverty line by providing access to careers that earn a living wage.
In his famous latest book, Where do we go from here: chaos or community, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., wrote: “Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any country, in any city, at any table, when man has them. resources and scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? Poverty, King concluded, is not a âdeficit in human resources; the deficit is in the human will.
We have made a lot of progress since the 1960s, but the problem of poverty and food insecurity persists. I propose a more holistic approach by starting by making connections between school lunch programs and community partners. Most importantly, we must find the âhuman willâ to eradicate poverty. The status quo of food insecurity does not have to last forever. We need the will, patience and support of people like you to ensure that no unborn child goes hungry.