The hungry, like the poor, have always been with us. At our Seders this week we declared, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” But can our words alone fight hunger? That is the question raised by the National Hunger Seder, held April 9 at the U.S. Capitol.
Being against hunger is easy. Doing something about it is much more difficult. At the Hunger Seder, one of 27 held around the country, a number of elected officials were on hand to speak out against food insecurity. In attendance were Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern, (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) as well as Matt Nosanchuk, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement for Jewish Outreach. The Seder was sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, which has been the Jewish voice fighting hunger for nearly 30 years.
And that’s part of the problem. Mazon, the food banks and the other fine groups that are trying to ease hunger in this country and around the world can go on collecting checks and stacking canned goods, but they will never solve the problem. The solution must come from the very building in which the Hunger Seder was held — the Capitol … and the U.S. Congress.
It is our elected officials in Congress who are best able to address the persistence of hunger and poverty in this country. It was Congress that earlier this year cut $9 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also called food stamps. And, incredibly, the $9 billion cut was considered a victory for food stamp supporters, because the Republican-led House had proposed slashing up to $39 billion.
Why has Congress seemingly forgotten the extent of hunger in this country? One answer may be that the needy don’t really have that strong a voice in the halls of government. So it is hard to get the attention of lawmakers on the issue. And officials within government who speak out on these issues don’t find significant support from lobbyists and large donors who try to influence the national agenda.
A true national hunger Seder would need to begin by confronting these issues squarely. If we want to defeat hunger, we need to do something about it. Declaring “let all who are hungry come and eat” at the Capitol sounds nice. Following up with a serious commitment on the issue and programs designed to break the cycle of poverty and the pain of hunger would be a wonderful result.
Let’s hope the men and women inside the U.S. Capitol get the message and get to work.