“Hungry People Don’t Deserve Your Hatred,” by Tom Howard

Feb 12th, 2014 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I want to talk about hunger.

There’s an old saying that you may have heard.  Too often we miss the forest for the trees.  Because: there are too many goddamn trees. So many trees, way too many trees.    That’s why the humane thing to do is to allow hunters to periodically and metaphorically “prune” them, because sometimes—maybe even most of the time—the only way to save something is to kill it.  But my real point is that the forest is there, behind all those damn trees.  Open your eyes.  Open your goddamn eyes.

Hunger is like that.  Recently I’ve seen a lot of stories in the news about hunger, which I understand has recently become a serious problem.   I saw a woman on the metro wearing a shirt that read STOP HUNGER NOW!, except that her boobs made the shirt stretch out in the middle, so instead it looked at first like STOP UNGE NOW.

I thought about that for a long time, worried that this crazy person Unge was on the loose, possibly eating people or, far worse, turning them into weird batteries for his (or her!) grotesque experiments.   But then the T-shirt woman saw me looking at her and she turned away, and at first I thought she was protecting Unge in some sick, twisted way, possibly even was in love with Unge, a victim of Stockholm Syndrome.   I felt bad for her, but I was also upset because I don’t believe in Stockholm Syndrome, and I’m pretty sure she only was into Unge because Unge was vaguely Nordic and could play the guitar, which admittedly is cool.  Fucking cool Unge and his human batteries and his amaaaaaazing guitar playing.  And then at last I saw and read the letters on the sides of her boobs.

And then I thought, for the first time, about hunger.

My initial reaction, obviously, was contempt.  Just eat something.   I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that.   We’re talking about basic biology.   It’s hard not to agree with the people who dismiss the hunger thing as a “first world problem,” a made-up issue like racial discrimination or diabetes, designed to distract us from the real problem of gay abortions.

But the thing is that I get it.  Sometimes you actually do forget to eat.  Just last week I was sitting at home, writing out some really good extemporaneous things to say for when I called in to Murray and Zabe’s radio show, and before I knew it the entire day was gone and I was lying there in my pajamas at midnight under the coffee table, my face stained with tears.

The point is that I forgot something important.  In my race to “join the conversation,” I forgot to listen to another conversation: the one I have with my own body, which tells me in no uncertain terms that without Cheetos, now, we will all be dead before morning.

Aside: I wonder why “thirst” isn’t as much of a concern.  You really never see campaigns to STOP WORLD THIRST.  And yet: humans can go seven days without food, but only a few minutes without vodka.   I’m not one to raise “conspiracy theories,” but I wonder if just maybe the powerful Food Lobby has held sway in the court of public opinion for too long?

Hunger isn’t a game.  That’s the thing.  You might think you’re “sticking it to the man” by dying of hunger, but you’re not.  You’re really not.  You’re just dying.  That’s the thing I was saying earlier, about the forest—sometimes you have to just see things for what they are, and you’re not helping anyone by dying.  Or maybe you are, I don’t know.  But you’re still part of the problem.  Be the solution.  Even if it’s difficult, even if you have trouble reminding yourself to at least for fuck’s sake eat a Snickers bar, you have to be the solution.  You want to send a message to “the man”?  How about “I’m not going to go hungry just because they closed down the all-night Wendy’s on Route One”?  I loved that Wendy’s too.  Get over it.  Wake up you crazy dipshit vampire.

I totally get that not all problems can be solved with just an “attitude adjustment.”  I’m not naïve.   That’s why you don’t see me up on my soapbox trying to end the pervasive problem of violins in our schools with a pithy, bumper-sticker-ready slogan.   Maybe I don’t get why there’s such uproar about it, but I respect it as an issue.  Too often people only see “one side” of a controversial topic, but in this case it really is a complex situation.  You can’t just “stop” violins.  You’d need a pretty goddamn major bipartisan agreement to ban the instrument completely, and then you would probably need death squads.

But here’s the thing: No rational person wants death squads.

My point, to bring things “full circle,” is that if hungry people are like trees, and our judgment and belittling of them is like a lumberjack, or like several lumberjacks all tied together, screaming, then maybe we need to stand back and recognize that we all have to live in the “forest” together.

And look, I’ve been guilty of passing judgment too, just as I’ve been guilty of so many other things.  But hunger isn’t something that can be “swept under the rug,” like manslaughter.  It takes a real commitment to change.  It takes courage.   It takes black and white, red and blue, working together to create a palatable (ha!) solution.

Yes, it’s a crazy idea.

But is it crazy like a fox?


Defenestration-Tom HowardTom Howard electrocuted himself when he was five, giving him the power to levitate small objects using only his hands.  Recent work appears in ARDOR, Ampersand Review, and the Higgs Weldon, and he received the 2013 Rash Award in Fiction.  He has a funny, noisy black dog named Harper, and he lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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