Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

American Hunger

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Summer is prime season for food, folks and fun — galore. But in the world's richest country, not everyone is getting a mouthful.


Every now and again, when I have something on my mind, I like to talk about it. And today it's really more of a naked bid for sympathy, because we're giving a dinner party - for 50 people. Needless to say, we don't do that often. Can I just tell you, the anxiety is already rising. Will everything be okay? Will the caterers show up on time? Most of all, will everybody have a good time? Key to this, of course, is the food.

When did food become such a competitive thing? I mean, I can understand if you're the president and you have to entertain other heads of state and showing off is part of your job. You know, my pastry chef can beat your pastry chef kind of thing? I get that. Or even the Hollywood types. I actually have some sympathy for that. They're in the entertainment business, so I can see where entertaining each other kind of shows they have the skills.

One friend of mine who works out there got married at home. How quaint, you think? Uh, no. Not if you saw the belly dancers and the fire-eaters on their front lawn. That was before you got inside the party, you know what I'm saying?

But when did the rest of us have to start worrying about whether the macadamia- nut-crusted fish with mango salsa was already played out? Did the rest of us have to start sweating about novelty and presentation? When did we have to start learning about fiddlehead ferns and wild-caught salmon and free-range chicken, not to mention allergies, and as you may just have heard, organic versus local versus sustainable versus conventional? And then, of course, some of us want to show off our ethnic flair so everybody knows we're keeping it real.

Now, don't get me wrong; I like choices and I know that choice is a luxury. Let's not forget, according to government figures almost 14 million kids in the U.S. were in so-called food-insecure households in 2004. That's a million more kids than in their last study in 2001. The USDA doesn't like to use the word hungry anymore, but you get the drift.

And if you grew up in a neighborhood like I did or live in certain places now, you surely knew a kid or two or three who was always hungry, who if you didn't mind would always take the half sandwich or apple you offered or stick around for dinner as often as your mom said they could.

A few members of Congress are making headlines this year because they tried to live for a week on a food stamp allotment of $21 a week per person. All the members I've talked to about this talked about how they were hungry, tired, and irritable.

And of course the other interesting thing now is we're facing an obesity epidemic in this country, which many attribute to the fact that the food that's easiest and cheapest is also the food with the most calories. It's a cliche, but it bears repeating. It's hard to believe that in the richest country in the world some people are still worrying about having enough to eat or about having the right things to eat.

Meanwhile, some of us are just worried about having food to show off. Mango salsa, anyone?

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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues