the shape of leadership

Feeding America’s Hungry

Jeremy K. Everett calls on Christians to address food insecurity

Alex Ferren on August 19, 2019

Jeremy K. Everett’s new book, I Was Hungry, examines the prevalence of hunger across the U.S., as well as the opportunity we have to end it.

As founder and director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, Everett has been an advocate of the hungry for more than 21 years. This book couples his experience with data. The result is a compelling vision for churches to address hunger in their communities. Everett calls upon Christians to work purposefully and humbly across ideological lines to build trust with impoverished communities and hungry populations.

Rather than thinking of American hunger as famine or food scarcity, Everett says we should understand hunger as “food insecurity” or “lack of access to enough healthy food to live a healthy lifestyle.”

The hidden barb of food insecurity is that it hinders people’s ability to make positive long-term decisions, forcing them to choose between paying bills or buying groceries. It is this involuntary trade-off that limits an individual’s ability to break the cycle of poverty. In 2016, 41.2 million Americans, including 12.9 million children, lived in food-insecure homes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Data aside, the highlight of I Was Hungry is Everett’s ability to tell a gripping story. Everett’s accounts animate the data, putting flesh and bones on numbers that are otherwise easy to ignore. His stories portray the heartbreaking, long-term implications of food insecurity.

While the details he relates are tragic, Everett never gives in to despair. Rather, he unrelentingly echoes the hope that we can eradicate hunger in the U.S. In fact, Everett believes this hope of solving hunger is the first step toward addressing poverty.

Jeremy Everett’s accounts animate the data, putting flesh and bones on numbers that are otherwise easy to ignore.

Prior to reading Everett’s work, I was frankly ignorant of food insecurity’s scale and consequences. In a politically polarizing time — when racial inequality, white supremacy, poverty, and violence against women take center stage in the media — hunger may seem like more of an inconvenience than a prevailing injustice.

Candidly, my ignorance to the hunger problem is directly related to a privileged insulation. In my white, affluent, suburban upbringing, I never unwillingly went without a meal, leading me to believe hunger was something that only affected other nations. Similarly, many local church leaders may not recognize hunger as a problem in their communities — simply because they lack proximity to those it affects.

Everett offers practical and tested models for local churches to begin addressing hunger in their communities. Here are some initial steps Everett proposes ministers take:

Gain proximity. Find populations most affected by food insecurity, such as students in impoverished neighborhoods, the elderly, migrant populations, and the homeless. Gain proximity, and simply listen to their stories.

Learn about other initiatives. Find out what other programs or ministries are already helping the hungry in your neighborhood and how you can help. Cross social, denominational and ideological lines to be a part of the solution.

Cooperate humbly. Recognize you are not the expert. Lean in to the experience and expertise of local organizations, and support them. Be willing to share power and contribute where you are needed. Ending hunger is not about who gets the credit; it is about creating human flourishing in your community.

Reading Everett’s book reminded me of Jesus’ parable in Luke 14, where the master invited all — the poor, the vulnerable and the broken — to his table. With that image in mind, I can scarcely think of anything more spiritual than giving all a foretaste of that feast.

Book Reviewed

Jeremy K. Everett, I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End an American Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019).

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