Bread & Poetry: Writing Out Hunger

No, I don’t want this day to end. How I have loved the time to write and wander in words today.

I’ve begun a new manuscript on the theme of hunger. Over the years, I’ve written quite a few poems about food, but since living in India, I can’t come to terms with how to live while there are so many people going hungry all around me. “India is still world’s hunger capital,” says The Deccan Herald today. “With nearly a fourth of its 1.1 billion population hungry, India indeed is the world’s hunger capital.” This is not acceptable.

I realize the overall GDP of most the world’s nations has significantly improved over the last 200 years. Nevertheless, people are going to bed hungry every night. They are knocking on my window whenever I ride out into Delhi’s streets, and they are sleeping and dying on the streets during winter’s cold.

How do we go on living year after year this way? How is it that I myself do nothing? I think of Jesus’s words in Matthew 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Whether we see the poor on the streets or not, they are there. “India has the highest number of undernourished people in the world — 230 million — added to which 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices,” says Prasenjit Chowdhury in the article stated above. The physical need for food is present everywhere here in India. Along with others, I am one of those who is doing nothing. How do I answer for that? Fredrick Buechner says “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” My vocation isn’t that of a social worker, and even if it were, the need is far more than one person can ever hope to meet. It is overwhelming.

Chowdhury gives some practical suggestions to reducing hunger, “The National Food Security Act of the UPA government is a step in the right direction as it envisages food-security-for-all. But the task of expanding our public distribution system must also take into account weeding out bogus cardholders and hoarders, while a stricter vigil has to be kept on both the quantity and quality of the available foodstock under PDS. Incorrect information, inaccurate measurement of household characteristics, corruption and inefficiency must be plugged.” While these measures are, of course, out of my control, it is clear to pretty much anyone that sharing food is an essential expression of love. If we love the country where we live, we must love the people in it. Loving the people in it means helping them to be able to care for their basic needs. If we are global citizens, we are working to help the world function in such a way to live together peacefully. That means enabling people to feed themselves. A spokesman from the World Food Program is quoted in the article as saying, “A hungry world is a dangerous world, without food, people have only three options: They riot, they emigrate or they die.” Over 30 countries with hungry people rioted last year.

Love comes through the hands: we love those who feed us. My deep gladness is writing poems. Other people’s hunger may not be improved by my writing poems, but I know I can’t be the only person wondering how to respond to such deep need around me, and maybe in writing poetry about food and hunger, like a modern miracle, I will discover at least some small way to meet the world’s deep need. Maybe poetry can somehow become bread. As Roque Dalton says in his poem, “Like You”. The original is in Spanish,

También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.

Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

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