Hunger that eats away at families

Published in the Courier Mail 29 April 2011

By Ruth Limkin

I’ve recently been talking a lot about food, or more precisely, the lack thereof.

I had a friendly conversation with a State Parliamentarian about the work of a small charity for which I work. We discussed community statistics in the local area, as well as discussing some of the anecdotal experiences our Community Program Manager has had.

The conversation, and the surprise with which it was received, was a reminder that poverty in our community is often hidden. Poverty isn’t always expressed in homelessness, and we won’t always see people reduced to begging in the street. Sometimes, poverty can be hard to spot at a glance, but becomes apparent when you ask the right questions. It’s present in our neighborhoods’ and is having a quietly destructive, long-term effect on children and families.

In fact, a recent study by QUT, conducted by Rebecca Ramsey, discovered that 25% of households in some areas of Brisbane have insufficient access to food. Ms Ramsey found ‘growing evidence that household food insecurity in developed countries, such as Australia, caused by limited financial resources, is posing a significant public health issue’.

Further, Ms Ramsey said, “It is not that these households are spending their limited money on junk food, it is more that they may be unable to afford a variety of fruit and vegetables and instead may be purchasing larger quantities of staples such as rice and bread.” The lack of fresh food in their diet has long-term implications.

There are no quick, simple solutions, but there are transformative responses, many of which require long-term community development approaches.

We must respond, for households that experience hidden poverty and silent hunger are not just experiencing lack today. Without intervention, they may experience lack for the rest of their lives.Generational patterns can be perpetuated or developed within such households, with the study showing ‘children from food insecure households were at risk of developmental, behavioural and social problems’.

A multi-faceted challenge needs to be addressed in a multi-faceted way. As we develop programs that not only address nutritional poverty, but also help alleviate poverty of the soul, we empower people to help them change their lives.
Such an approach requires caring people, broad community responses, and generous resources.

For example, the charity I work with has recently redeveloped our food parcel program.  A number of new initiatives within the program not only provide people with healthy food, but also the ideas and tools to begin improved healthy eating habits. Weekly menu suggestions are included, along with recipes based on the components of the food parcel. Cooking classes will provide education within the context of relational mentoring, showing people how to cook from scratch.

It’s more work, and it costs more money. However, this week, a client reminded me why we’ve made those changes, and that we still have more to do. A young mum signed up for the program and we were quietly asked if we had step by step pictures for instructions to make porridge.

You see, she can’t read. And no-one’s ever taught her how to make porridge. And that’s just as much of a poverty as the fact that she doesn’t have enough to eat.