The Empty Table

My favorite Christmas movie is the 1951 film Scrooge (as it was called in England, but A Christmas Carol in the U.S.) starring the wonderful Alistair Sim. And my favorite scene, and I am not alone in this, is when Scrooge steps into the room adjacent to his bedchamber. and sees the entire room decked with greenery and a huge man dressed in a fur-trimmed robe, the Ghost of Christmas Present, enthroned upon “turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.” That is how Dickens describes him in the original 1843 story. A fire roars in the fireplace, and further light comes from the torch the Ghost holds that is shaped not unlike a cornucopia. This is the feast that is Christmas. And who does not try in some way to keep the feast, whatever winter holiday you celebrate?

Feasting is integral to our winter holidays, and in fact, to most celebrating of any sort. Yet in the United States, according to a November 29, 2023, report from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in 2022, 12.8 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at least some time during the year, meaning they had difficulty providing enough food for all their members. That translates to about 44 million people, 13 million of whom are children. And why, in the richest country in the world would that be?

I just finished reading Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of Evicted. In the book, Desmond re-examines the debate about how and why poverty exists in America. The good news is, poverty can be defeated. The bad news is, the U.S. isn’t doing it–at least not very well, not as well as other developed nations. The Washington Post tells me 15 states with Republican governors have refused U.S. government funding for summer food programs for children who depend on school lunches the rest of the year to feed them. The reasons vary from, why do this when there is an obesity problem in the U.S. to “I don’t believe in welfare”. Meanwhile, children go hungry.

It has been argued that famine is not the result of lack of food but of the lack of distribution. In fact, the first food aid programs in 1939 were to help farmers during the Great Depression who could not sell their excess harvests and to get the food that would otherwise go to waste to people who were malnourished or even starving.

In my house, I have this strange idea that no one, man nor beast, should be hungry. We feed the birds, plant things that provide forage and nectar, compost our food scraps that help keep the opossum fat, donate to Harvesters, and worry over whether the little spider that lives behind the trash can in the bathroom has enough tiny bugs in the winter to get by. We take food to neighbors and gratefully receive it from them in return. Food is love, to be shared. It is also the most basic of human  necessities. Droughts and floods destroy crops but not in every part of the world all at once. Those disasters can be mitigated by people of good will who recognize the need and find a way to help.

The use of food as a weapon of war, or as political leverage is beyond the bounds of human decency. People in Gaza and Ukraine should not starve.  People in poor neighborhoods, urban or rural, should not go without. There is plenty of food, if only we share it, find ways to distribute it, make it available through food assistance, community gardens, donations.

Scrooge, in the end, finds his heart and learns to share the bounty of Christmas all the year. Our winter feasting may end when we decided to get back on that diet and lose a few pounds, but sharing our feast throughout the year with those who are hungry should never end.

Image: No food. By Marilyn Evans