Hunger among the elderly is not a new phenomenon. In fact, we can’t even say that it is totally a factor of the economic woes of the present world. Hunger among the elderly has existed as long as old people have lived on this earth. In other words, forever. It just seems to present itself in different ways throughout the centuries. The phenomenon of being an older person who is food insecure, undernourished, malnourished, or just plain hungry is as old as time. And just why is that? Because aggravating circumstances will always be present — circumstances that prohibit or inhibit individuals’ abilities to provide food for themselves. These factors may be lack of resources, lack of mobility, lack of access, a poor health condition, isolation – both social and emotional, or any number of reasons too numerous to name. Suffice to say, while the circumstances surrounding the presence of hunger are many, the end result is always the same – food will cure the symptom. But how do we cure the disease of hunger?
Are we suggesting that hunger is a disease then? We would argue that it is very much a disease. The dictionary defines a disease as “a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people.” Indeed, hunger is a disease. But unlike other diseases that afflict a person or a group of people, this one is different. This one seeks no magical potion that has yet to be invented in a laboratory. The solutions to this disease exist already. There are many innovative, creative thinkers among us who can see a problem and “invent,” “design,” “concoct” and otherwise “imagine” the solutions. We need to call on them to help us “fix” a broken America. No one in this country should go hungry. But if we do not include the issue of senior hunger in a larger discussion about hunger, we are only painting half a picture of the hunger problem. Ignoring the issue of senior hunger prevents those who would otherwise embrace a response from acting on it. We need to respond to the problem and we need to muster the courage to do so boldly.
There are wonderful programs in America today that work to address the issue. We think that meals on wheels and congregate dining at senior centers are wonderful programs and we think the world of those local programs that work on a daily basis to address the immediate nutrition needs of today’s hungry seniors. What we must do in tandem with this, however, is to look to the future and think about what we do to break the life cycle of hunger to avoid the possibility of not just a fiscal cliff but a human cliff of poverty and hunger. We need to seek solutions that are viable, sustainable, and practicable to end senior hunger. We have enough food; we just need enough courage and will.
We are reminded of the story of the mother and daughter who part ways at the airport and hug and kiss goodbye. But instead of saying “goodbye” the mother turns to the daughter and says: “I love you and wish you enough.” The daughter in turn says to her mother that she too loves her and wishes her enough. When questioned about this, they say that it comes from an old expression of love:
“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.”
“I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.”
“I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.”
And so, we say that these four simple words be our mantra and our sustaining philosophy: We wish you enough. We wish you enough food to keep your belly full, and we also wish you enough courage to work alongside us to end senior hunger once and for all.