As an adventurous eater, I appreciate foods of all nations and cultures. From the exquisite decadence of French cuisine to the simple, clean flavors of Japanese food, there are few things I would be reluctant to taste. I admire the devotion of a chef who is always looking for that perfect balance of ingredients to make the palate sing with pleasure. Gazing at the edible masterpiece in front of me, I acknowledge the hard work that sent the dish into my eager hands. Once I clear my plate, hunger is the farthest thing from my mind.
I have great respect for the food presented to me, but I appreciate it even more when it’s not there.
On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, it is customary for those of the Jewish faith to participate in a daylong fast during which neither food nor drink may be consumed.
“Ideally, the fast isn’t discipline for bad behavior,” said Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain Rabbi David Leipziger Teva. “It’s not self-flagellation. It’s about becoming more aware of what you have and developing a healthier relationship with food.”
During Yom Kippur, I am reminded that my decision to go 25 hours without food might not be a matter of choice for others. Just walk into any college cafeteria in the country, and the abundance of options makes it hard to imagine anyone going hungry. But the reality is that not all people have ready access to food. For some, nourishment doesn’t come as easily as the swipe of a card at Usdan. The holiday ensures that we remain aware of this sobering fact.
“Yom Kippur helps us reconnect with Jewish values like feeding the hungry and helping those who are more vulnerable,” Teva said. “The fast has to have a dimension, and what God ultimately wants is for us to feed and clothe those who don’t have food.”
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before the issue of food access is resolved. According to Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to fighting hunger, 50.1 million Americans were living in food insecure households as of 2011. Within this demographic, 16.7 million were under the age of 18 at the time the data was collected. The fact that one in six Americans is in danger of starvation means that the issue is more widespread than one might realize.
Even in Middletown, the local food pantry, Amazing Grace, is in a so-called “red alert.” This means the number of donations that the organization is currently receiving cannot adequately support the nutritional demands of those in need nearby.
That’s exactly the issue that many community partnership groups at the University are attempting to tackle. The Food Rescue Program, Long Lane Farm, and Challah for Hunger are just a few organizations on campus that work to combat local hunger.
In the case of the Food Rescue Program, student volunteers bring leftover food from Pi Café, Usdan, and Summerfields to the Middlesex County Eddy Shelter in shifts every day of the week. The program is also seeking the involvement of restaurants and bakeries in the community, which could lead to the development of similar programs that serve the needs of other local shelters.
“Food insecurity is a pressing issue for individuals just a few blocks from our main campus,” said Food Rescue Coordinator Catherine Marquez ’16. “With the surplus of food on campus, it is easy to be unaware of this. In order to affect change regarding hunger in our community, we have to be aware that it exists.”
Though Yom Kippur gives Jews a chance to think about hunger, some of the meanings behind the holiday are very secular in nature. The ultimate goal is for people to be conscious of the food available to them, and to look out for those who might not have the same privilege.