The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
The trip didn't start well. After checking in for my flight I realized that accidentally left my camera, it's charger and the charger for my laptop and phone, which I primarily use for travel, on my bedroom floor. (This was following the night I left my bike helmet at the library and water bottle at work.) But it was all okay. Most people live without these niceties and I like to think I'm resourceful. It all worked out.
While I was on the plane I wrote down what I already knew or thought about hunger. I would have posted all of it, but it's handwritten (oh, I also forgot a pen, but the flight attendant had an extra), not typed. Here's a short rundown of what was three pages:
We are six months into the largest world-wide food shortage and hunger crisis since the early 80s. Food shortage is caused by non-sustainable farming practices, pollution and drought. Some food staples (like corn) are being turned into biofuels (like ethanol) or being fed to livestock (like hogs, cows and chickens) instead of being fed to hungry humans. Recently, with all time high gas prices, less food is able to be shipped from places of abundance to need. Things are probably going to get worse because very recently, huge portions of our nation's farmland have been flooded and we can now expect low crop production for the '08 harvest compared to the especially productive '07 harvest.
After pursuing the topic a bit, asking how action can start with me and finding this article I've decided to more seriously pursue a very low-meat diet, drive as little as possible (more so than before, to put in my negative consumer vote on gasoline demand) and make other people a little more aware of these issues (I'll start with this blog). In the long run I am abstractly considering doing some sort of community-oriented sustainability development work.
On the plane I also met four other people going to the Bread for the World conference. One lives just a few miles away from me and I ended up sharing an orange, navigating the Metro (it helped that we were both used to riding the 'L' in Chicago) and lobbying our Illinois Congressman with her.
During the conference I met all sorts of amazing people--the Hunger Justice Leaders represented just about every race, culture and socioeconomic class and region in the US, but all were between 18 and 35 in age, ultimately making me a youngster at the event. We listened to speakers: politicians, pastors, former hungry people (from Africa), did workshops, debriefed and planned in small groups, worshiped together. I hope I will keep up with some of my new connections, especially from Chicagoland and NW Iowa.
Speaking of NW Iowa, on Lobby Day I met up with a wonderful Prof. from school and we went together to lobby our elected Iowa officials. They told us to expect to get 15 minute appointments with our representative's aides and then possibly get passed off to a secretary who would simply take notes on our lobby for passage of the Global Poverty Act for the congressman. This is what happened on my visit to Iowa Sen. Harkin's office and at IL Rep. Roskam's office. I went to Sen. Grassly's office and although I ran into Joel Veldkamp (good to see you, too, Joel!) I did not get to meet with the Senator because he was behind schedule and I had another appointment to keep. However, Rep. King from Iowa met with Prof. Jansen and I in person.
Actually, He was quite chatty. He asked me about my plans as a future teacher, told us the about the rice Trans Ova is working on genetically altering to help children dying from diarrhea, about his trips to Africa (what a suntan on that man!). I jotted down this quote from him: "If I were to go to sleep and wake up in Sioux Center I might think I'd died and gone to heaven." I kid you not--he said that!
For the 45 minutes we were sitting on his big black leather couch, I talked for maybe three of them. When the topic of biofuel came up I was glad I had had the experience of visiting the ethanol plant in Sioux Center and had already been considering the relationship of food for fuel and hunger. I admitted to King that I was still grappling with the biofuel issue and he, poking at my inner educator, said, "I'm glad you still have some room on your chalkboard for the issue."
Sensing my opposing liberal tendencies, encouraging me to take notes, he went on to give me the exact figures of the surplus Iowa corn yields of '07, tell me all about the efficiency of ethanol production, with the byproducts being fed to cattle and concluded with saying "[biofuel has] doubled the value of corn." He also said something to the effect that "isn't it great that the rest of the world is learning to eat meat like Americans? The world has enough grain--hungry people need meat as a rich source of protein (disagreed) and more vegetables (agreed). I just politely bit my tongue, smiled, nodded and said I understood what he was saying. I felt like I was the one being lobbied...
After squeezing in my bottom line lobby for a federal budget increase of $5 billion in the next fiscal year for poverty-focused development assistance, an aide came in, told King he had House votes to make in 15 minutes and asked if we'd like to take a picture. We did and I asked one last question. "Because there will likely be a significant drop in corn production due to current flooding, will biofuel be put on hold because food will be more scarce?" I didn't get a straight answer and we were off.
All in all, I feel like I was really invested in during this conference. I learned so much about how our democracy works, I learned about poverty and hunger in the US, about the downfalls of food stamps, and how I really do have a say in my government as a US citizen (what a blessing!). I am determined to encourage others to be active citizens, too (hence my commitment to Bread advocacy for the next year or so). I think I am going to work on getting Justice Matters to do some lobbying in the coming semester among other things. It'll be good to move beyond awareness into practical and effective action.