Hunger, especially child hunger is a serious matter, and one that affects every area of a child’s life. Child hunger is more pervasive than you may imagine. How do we make all children aware of this issue and present it in a compassionate way? Lulu and the Hunger Monster is one such way to start talking about food literacy.
Child hunger is everywhere. Right here in our small country of Northern Ireland 27% of children live in poverty. That’s totally shocking and unacceptable, but it’s not only here, every country, state, and town, will have children in need of nutritious food. No one knows this better than Erik Talkin, Chief Executive Officer of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County in the USA.
This past year has shown how easy it is for people’s income to dissolve, as well as what a life without food on the grocery shop shelves could look in the future. It’s something that we’ve been thinking about with Brexit and 40% of food suppliers having said that they will not be shipping products to Northern Ireland for the first quarter of 2021. Hopefully, now that the terms of Brexit are being implemented, this will change, but prices will definitely increase and variety will reduce, and shelves of fresh produce and frozen goods were missing from the major retailers within days of the Northern Ireland Protocol being introduced.
Erik’s specialty over his 20 years at the Foodbank has been empowerment, education, and food literacy. He’s seen the impact that Covid-19 has had in increasing the numbers of hungry children, and he’s put pen to paper and written a children’s picture book about it.
Lulu and the Hunger Monster is about a little girl who has an invisible monster that follows her around all day long since the time her mother’s vehicle broke down and the family’s money went towards fixing the fan so her mom could have transportation to work. However, this meant that that there now was not enough money for groceries.
Hunger Monster goes everywhere Lulu goes, causing trouble for her and making it difficult for Lulu to concentrate at school, she can’t play with her friends because she doesn’t have the energy. Lulu makes some hard decisions along the way as well.
When Lulu’s hunger eases slightly after her friends share their food with her in a way that doesn’t embarrass her, she gains the strength to talk to someone she trusts, someone who has the knowledge to point her and her mom in the direction of the local Foodbank.
In this TedTalk, Erik talks about Food Literacy, which is one of the ways that people can learn about nutritious food, why it’s important, and delicious ways to prepare it. He discusses why just providing food for those in need doesn’t solve the issue, and what he found shocking when he followed someone after they picked up their food.
There are similar programs in Northern Ireland; from Belfast on down to small towns such as ours. I’ve attended different sessions over the past number of years, and I must say how shocked and disappointed I was to see that these events were very poorly attended (at one there were only 5 of us (and we accounted for 3) – yet when there are fun family days or fairs, the locations are packed with people spending great amounts of money on unhealthy food. I do assume there may be some stigma attached to attending a meeting about how to reduce food costs, or how to entice children to eat well.
The way to help children out of food poverty isn’t easy and it takes time to change thinking and behaviours. Poverty doesn’t need to be an endless cycle, but parents need help now, and children need to see that there is a way for them to end the cycle, which takes confidence and determination, as well as the knowledge of how to do it.
What I like about Lulu and the Hunger Monster is that it shows how any unexpected financial outlay can upset the precarious balance that too many families live with. Choosing between feeding your children and having transportation, paying for electricity or heating, or the rent or mortgage is a stress that hundreds of thousands of parents think about daily.
This book doesn’t cast blame on the family or the situation, but presents it as it is. You and your children may not be aware of children at school or in your community that are living this life. It shows, with empathy, that Lulu has observant friends and a school that is helpful.
Let’s all think about what we can do. Can you share a meal with another family and enjoy some banter around the table with them? Can you send a little something extra with your child to school for their snack or lunch that they can share with someone they think could need it? Can schools provide free meals for children without discrimination or shaming? Can schools teach food literacy and financial literacy to children and their families? Can the government increase minimum wage? Can employers pay a living wage? Can grocery stores, corner shops, and restaurants provide discounts or products for those who need them? Can the government provide funding for mental health within schools for all who need it? Can they provide more funding for training of counsellors for wider society? What can be done about the stigma attached to poverty and food poverty, in particular?
I could go on as this is a topic that has had me thinking about it since I toured a Foodbank in my hometown when I was still a pre-teen as part of a component for a Girl Guide badge. Since that time it has moved a much larger location, there are community food programs in one of the most deprived areas of the city, and just recently a community fridge has been put into place. This is a long-term problem that must have long-term solutions, not just short-sighted temporary patches to boost political ratings.
To help you with these topics, Free Spirit Publishing has created a 19-page Leader’s Guide for Lulu and the Hunger Monster to help teachers integrate the book into their classroom routine.