By Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate
Exactly four years ago, I was headed straight for Ankara, Turkey, where I would be studying for the year as part of a university education abroad program. At the time, I was unaware of how much the experience would change my life, and continue to influence the way I perceive the world even today.
I had never been to a Muslim country before, and soaked up every religious and cultural experience that came my way. Ramadan began shortly after I arrived, and the country suddenly lit up—literally and figuratively. Mosques were adorned with lights, every shopkeeper wished us happy “bayramlar” (holidays), and it felt as if the country were taking a deep breath of peace and brotherhood. Along with Ramadan came fasting, which myself and a handful of exchange student friends decided to experience together for one day. Our Muslim friends supported us and invited us to Iftar—the breaking of the fast—and explained to us the importance of fasting and prayer.
Each year since, I have fasted for one day during the month of Ramadan. This year, I chose today, the final day of the celebration. When hunger hit me in the mid-morning hours, I instinctively reached toward my stash of granola bars. I needed to shake off the temptation. Busy with work, this was not hard until noon when the delicious scents of lunch being cooked downstairs hit me. In the following hours, the apple on my desk kept staring at me, so I hid it. The worst, by far, is not being able to drink water on this hot summer day. And I haven’t even biked home and gone to rugby practice yet.
What started out years ago as a cultural experience has unintentionally begun to take the form of a deeply spiritual and emotional journey. Though I wouldn’t dare to describe how one fully committed to fasting and observing the full month of Ramadan feels, I can share my experience. When hunger sits with me all day, I begin to comprehend the full importance and significance of food in my life, and in all our lives. Right now, there are millions of people across the world who feel hunger’s sting not because they choose to, but because they have no other way. There are roughly 50.2 million Americans living in food insecure households, meaning they have a lack of sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to lead a healthy life. This includes 17.2 million children who face malnutrition or starvation, which can impair their physical and mental development and hold them back for the rest of their lives. In the world, the number of hungry and undernourished people is dangerously close to 1 billion.
While many factors influence the number of food insecure people in this country, our food policies are one obvious one. Processed and nutritionally-devoid foods remain relatively cheap in America, encouraging their consumption for those who have no means to buy more expensive healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Rising food prices affect us all, but disproportionately affect the poor and communities of color. And while a great degree of Farm Bill funding goes to food provisioning programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), around 33% of Americans who are eligible for the program receive no benefits.
I believe it’s time for us to build a food system that’s equitable, resilient, and responsive to those most in need. It’s time for healthy, accessible, and affordable food for everyone, so the only people who are hungry are those fasting by choice.
İyi Bayramlar, Happy Holidays.