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Anne Marie Bracco brought this First Word to the meeting on during our annual "Hunger Month," October 29, 2006.

Teaching Hunger

I want my children to know hunger. It sounds strange in my ears, and probably in yours. But I want them to have a deep and personal understanding of what it is to be in want, for their own spiritual health. It seems to me that to feel a desire -- and to learn how to handle what to do with a desire that can't be met -- is an essential childhood lesson that is being skipped or poorly taught so much around us. Our family has the privilege of living in a situaltion where credit cards, family, and government have bailed us out of tight situations many times. It isn't even conceivable to my children what it must be like to have none of these. It isn't even a concept I fully grasp. We have never gone without food.

So much of the work in the area of hunger involves bringing up the standard for others. But I have been considering how much faster we might accomplish change if we thought in terms of, in a sense, lowering our standards while simultaneously raising theirs.

Gino and Luna are too young for me to ask them to fast, but I do ask them to wait and to delay gratification, time and time again. I feel that doubt inside me that says, "Am I sending the message that their needs or discomforts are unimportant to me when I ask them to wait?" This is a hard position to take in middle-class America and still feel confident about my goals as a parent. I want to be a good parent. I want my children to have memories of me as a loving and giving mother, a caretaker, with warm embraces and solutions. But I want to balance this with giving them the gifts of perspective, empathy, and patience.

In preparation for today, I have been thinking about the ways our family already works on behalf of hunger concerns in our daily lives, and ways we could improve. I could try to appeal to my children in a cerebral or emotional way. I could try to explain to them, and sometimes do, what it is like to be a child in a specific foreign country, to have such radically different norms in terms of daily rituals, transportation, and food, and how interconnected these are. But it seems to work much better at this age to offer practial ways to simply live more like these other children. To close the gap, as much as possible, between our lifestyle and theirs. When we reduce the waste and haste involved in our own eating, we help to close that gap. We reduce the disparity between the lifestyle of the prosperous and the needy. When we consider the source of our food before choosing it, we help to close that gap.

I want my children to feel hunger so that other children may feel less. Of course I don't want them to suffer, but I want them to know sacrifice, restraint, and the joy of a true special treat: to undrestand the concept of savoring something. We talk a lot inour family about how some of the rules we have limit foods precisely because the food will taste so much better if it is a rarity.

This is why we bake, and cook, and dehydrate fruit. This is why we garden. This is why we walk places when we could drive. The profound lessons we learn by earning our meals, investing time into them, and involving ourselves in their production are ways we work in our home against greater hunger concerns. We always have gigantic areas of needed improvement, but each year we seem to make leaps, as well, which keeps us encouraged. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed and immobilized to make changes toward food simplicity in a culture so laden with choice and availability. I have thought often since yearly meeting of a Gandhi quote Julie Peyton used in her "addicted to oil" workshop, "Anything you do is bound to be insignificant, and it is very important that you do it."

And so, i offer these queries: What are things you can do to close the gap between your food lifestyle and that of those in need? What unnecessary packaging, compulsions, convenience, and fuel for shopping trips can you shed from your lifestyle to free up time, money or mental solidarity to share with the hungry?