Let them eat cake

Some years ago, I wrote a column that cited statistics suggesting 78% of Canadians believe hunger is the government’s problem.

Most of us don’t have a first-hand acquaintance with hunger. My siblings and I spent most of our childhood years in poverty, but we never experienced hunger. Ofttimes we felt the cold. Usually we wore hand-me-downs enhanced with patches. Much of the time, we played with used and broken toys. But we never, never went hungry. Many other Canadians had difficulty during the 1930s and 1940s – and so did the rest of the world, including some Americans.

In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote about those years in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath: “The fields were fruitful. And starving men moved on the roads. The granaries were full and the children of the poor grew up rachitic, and the pustules of pellagra swelled on their side. The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line.”

The closest I came to hunger happened when my doctor diagnosed diabetes and ordered weight loss and a strict diet. I followed all the rules and, 20 years later, weigh much less and control the diabetes with diet. But I write nonsense if I equate hunger with the minor discomfort of eating less food. 

I got my first real sense of hunger when I visited the Philippines and saw the gaunt faces of children living in poverty-stricken barrios or begging on the streets of Manila. Even today I can close my eyes and replay vivid pictures of deprived children with faces deeply distorted by feelings of anger. I felt their hatred directed at me, a wealthy westerner by their standards, standing at the edge of their village and daring to eavesdrop on their hurt and shame.

In previous columns, I related how that emotional experience cut so deeply that I personally responded to world hunger by becoming a vegetarian. Just in case you get the wrong impression by thinking my reaction purely philosophical, I also began sponsoring needy third-world children.

Now that election fever has become a fixed part of our culture, our leaders frequently  recount statistics and make appeals concerning child poverty. Unfortunately, even in Canada child poverty can also mean child hunger. Some politicians even go so far as to promise the end of child poverty if we vote for them.

But it never happened when they promised to end it a decade ago, and it won’t likely happen if we again leave it to government. When we settled or immigrated to this country, we became a society of individuals who now find it almost impossible to think collectively.

So if we ever beat the problems of child poverty and hunger, we will need to do it individually, one child at a time. Yes, we will need to teach personal responsibility, but we must reach into our own pockets and give of our own time to ease the problem. We need to get involved with organizations having similar goals. When we expect government to do it, we really say, “It’s not my problem; let others pay.”

If once again we leave it to government, history says it won’t happen.   

In my opinion, if 78% of Canadians really believe hunger is the government’s problem, we have become a nation of buck-passers.


Ray Wiseman