The winter holidays are right around the corner. Soon, many Americans will gather around the dinner table with family and friends to give thanks for abundant blessings and freedoms as they indulge in a cornucopia of delicious traditional foods. Leftovers will last for days.
Then, in December, people of different faiths and traditions will celebrate religious or cultural holidays – enjoying more festive and plentiful food and the added indulgence of gift-giving. These seasonal rituals and celebrations often leave many of us feeling stuffed and uncomfortable – in more ways than one.
As you plan for these next six weeks of abundance and gratitude, consider a few eye-opening facts:
- Over Halloween, Americans were expected to spend an all-time high of $10.14 billion, including $3 billion on candy, and a staggering $490 million on costumes for pets.
- Americans spend more than $8 billion a year on wrapping paper, much of which is not recyclable, and ends up in landfills.
- 40 percent of the food produced in the United States, amounting to 80 billion tons, is never eaten. Rather, it is thrown away. Nearly 25% of the freshwater and 300 million barrels of the oil consumed for the production of food in the U.S. is wasted.
Despite these facts, many people in the United States are in need:
- Although hunger and food insecurity across the U.S. have dropped measurably over the last six months, thanks in significant part to increased government support, the amount of food being distributed by Feeding America’s partner food banks remains more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels.
- In 2020, over 38 million Americans (11.8 percent) lived in households that struggled with food insecurity, or lack of access to an affordable, nutritious diet, representing a 9 percent increase from 2019.
- One in 25 (3.9 percent) of households in the U.S. experienced very low food security, a more severe form of food insecurity, where households report regularly skipping meals or reducing intake because they could not afford more food.
- 1 in 7 (14.8 percent) of households with children could not buy enough food to adequately feed their families.
- Black (21.7 percent) and Latinx (17.2 percent) households are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity, with food insecurity rates in 2020 triple and double the rate of white households (7.1 percent), respectively.
I mention these statistics, not to assign guilt as we approach the traditional holiday season, but to raise awareness of the challenges experienced by so many in communities throughout the U.S. When conversing about the usual subjects around the Thanksgiving table, you might want to add the following questions. After all, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table,” according to former President Ronald Reagan.
- What is our responsibility to do more to help others who are food-insecure
in the places in which we live?
- What opportunities do we have to help ensure that everyone in our communities has access to sufficient food for every meal, every day?
- As the December holidays approach, would we be willing to set aside a portion of the money typically designated for gifts to be contributed to a common “family and friends” cause — one that will help provide food and other basic necessities for people in our community?
- Can we pledge to do this every year from this point forward— widening our circle of participating family members, friends and colleagues?
A pledge to spend less on each other and give more to people who could use a “hand-up” can bring families, friends and coworkers together with a shared purpose. It can help children focus on giving as well as getting, spread the true spirit of the season and make our communities better places for everyone. Plus, there is an excellent chance that – by season’s end – you will feel considerably less stuffed and uncomfortable.
A Haitian saying sums it up: “If you get a piece of cake and eat the whole thing, you will feel empty. If you get a piece of cake and share half of it, you will feel both full and fulfilled.”
This post originally appeared in The Denver Post on Sunday, November 14, 2021. It is reposted here by the author with permission.