Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hope Beyond Yourself

Dogs know August

August is a rough month.  The weather is scorching, summer's freedom is ending, and it seems like the world is sucked into its humidity drenched stupor.  It's easy to get lost in the bad news, or dwell on your own shortcomings, rather than think of the promise of tomorrows to come.

Just in time, the Washington Post placed this article on the front page of today's paper.  It's all about how, in the midst of the looming debt crises, rioting in London and seemingly endless streams of bad news, we can still find the simple joys in life.  A dog rolling in the grass, the last serving of a food truck speciality, lunch with your beloved in the middle of the day.  More importantly though, it illustrates how if we frame the world in the light of good, we can have the will to conquer the bad.  Hope in mere possibility is half the battle.  Maybe more.

Light, meet End of Tunnel

This past weekend, a video with Matt Damon fuming at why most teachers do what they do (their love of the job and belief in its importance *not* job security) went viral.  Having been a teacher, and being friends with so many teachers, I, of course, agree.  The world is filled (maybe not quite as filled as it should be, but examples abound none-the-less) with people who do what they do because they believe in it.  Not to become famous, not to become rich, not to have power, not even to make their lives "comfortable", but because they passionately and whole-heartedly believe that what they are doing can change someone else's life.

This is why I have such trouble posting in a timely manner about the "Food Fighters" I visit.  How can I adequately represent these individuals who are usually doing the work of 2-3 people, fighting a battle they'll likely never see the results of in their own lifetime, sacrificing vacation time/family time/personal time, and a decent salary, all without even considering these things an actual sacrifice compared to the people they aim to reach?  I am humbled on a daily basis by the commitment of the people I meet.  But mostly, I am inspired by their hope.  They truly believe that the world not only should change, but can change.

Two weeks ago, I participated in another Bread for the City farmer's market.  This time, it was at their location in Anacostia- a historically, low-income, crime-plagued area of the city.  The day was sweltering.  I must have had a 100 excuses roll through my head about not showing up to do my cooking demo.  Still, I arrived to find tents set-up, produce out and a full arsenal of employees and volunteers already soaked with sweat at 9:30am.  The line of people waiting for opening time took up a whole city block.  When the market started, BFC gave away 3600 pounds of produce in under an hour causing a near riot.  They broke up a fight, managed huge crowds disappointed at how fast the produce went, talked to clients about future needs, and then, immediately starting planning their next event (5000 lbs is the new goal).  While I went home to peel out of my drenched clothing and shower, they went back to work at their offices for another 5 or 6 hours.  That can't be blamed on mere dedication.  I think what you're seeing is hope.

People involved in food justice lift my spirit.  I mean, what other field would you find people who say things like, "Oh man, I wish I could join you on the tour of Detroit!"  Or, "If I had time for vacation, I would totally join you in the SouthEast."  While most people dream of beaches and mountains and someone delivering drinks for a summer retreat, I find people considering a tour of inner-city Chicago.  The desire to find out more, do more, learn more about how to conquer food injustices is overwhelming.

Then, there's the willingness to share.  Everyone says yes. I sit in front of my inbox every day in awe of the response to this project.  Strangers (Fan Watkinson, Megan Bucknum, I'm talking to you) have volunteered to give up whole days arranging schedules for me in different cities.  (Megan: "I have Friday afternoons off.  So, why don't we meet at my office and then, I can take you to places X, Y, and Z."  On her DAY OFF, people.  For me, a stranger.  Remarkable).  People who already work over 12 hour days have taken hours to discuss what they do and what I do, share ideas and bought me lunch to boot!  (Thank you, JD Kemp and Darnell Adams of Crop Circle Kitchen.)  I've been invited into people's homes and given garlic straight out of their garden's (JJ Gonson of Cambridge Community Kitchen).  Organizations have welcomed me in the midst of their busiest season and invited me to attend some of their marquee events (See: The Food Project.)

And the only reason I can think of (since less than 1% of America has heard of the magazine I write for) is their passion and hope.  "Yes!  Let's talk about it!" they respond.  "We'd love to share what we're doing."  It's the "let's take this to something beyond ourselves" motivation.  Where do I find the words for this type of humbling generosity of spirit?

I think the only way I can do this is by hoping, too.  Not hoping that my own life will improve (although, I think it's fine to hope that, too), but by believing that together we can and will bring change in food insecurity, the environment and nutritional, affordable food.  I'm questioning, observing, reporting, because I believe in hope beyond my own life.  Like the outstanding individuals I visit, I believe in the possibilities of the future.

Take that, August.


  1. Yeah, TAKE THAT! Really, it starts with a seed and this work that you're doing will bring upon the change that's needed. Go, Matt Damon.