Sunday, April 10, 2011

My pathetic effort to fast in protest of budget cuts

Like many of our colleagues in the anti-hunger community I committed to participate last week in the “rolling fast” being organized to protest budget cuts that would affect those most dependent on public food and nutrition programs. Two of my all time heroes are Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, both of whom used fasting to powerfully advance social change. So you can imagine how disappointed I was to discover how bad I am at fasting.

First of all I had trouble finding a time to do it. I was supposed to fast on Wednesday but my older son Zach and his girlfriend Daniela, decided to get married that morning in a civil ceremony at the Rockville Court House. A celebratory lunch followed and it would obviously have been bad form not to partake in such an important and joyful event.

Since I hadn’t realized I would need Thursday as a back-up I’d already packed it with a breakfast meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, a lunch with a Community Wealth Ventures alum, and dinner with my father-in-law. Since he’s 82 we eat early to take advantage of blue plate specials and so by 6:30 on Thursday evening, I was ready to commence my fast. By 9:00 p.m. I was already irritable because I always have a few cookies with tea as I try to do some evening writing and I have convinced myself that the better the cookies the better I write.

The next morning was chaotic because I was up by 5:00 a.m. responding to emails, then taking Nate to school, then busy and distracted with meetings in Boston until noon. By lunchtime, even having so far only missed one meal and the previous evening’s snack, I was feeling sufficiently unfocused and unproductive to be questioning the wisdom of my participation in the fast. After lunch I hurried to a 1:00 meeting at which I kept looking at my watch and contributed nothing. It’s always amazed me that evolution has not changed the fact that our species needs to munch on something as frequently as every few hours.

Needless to say I made it through the 24 hours, but not with confidence that I could have gone much farther. As a result, I took away a few observations I thought might be worth sharing:

First, from the trouble I had finding the time to fast, I realized that aside from the obvious fact that most of our lives are so privileged that we never have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, our lives are actually so privileged that it can be hard to find a time when food is not literally being pushed at us! I’m not even sure what to call that level of disparity.

Second, as closely as I follow the budget deliberations on Capitol Hill, I followed even more closely during this period while fasting, which kept reminding me of the plight of those who will feel the cuts the most. The weekend’s press coverage of the averted government shutdown was astonishing in its focus on who was hurt politically (Boehner? Obama?) but with virtually no mention of who would be hurt in terms of the impact of devastating budget cuts on their bodies and lives: women, children, the elderly.

Third, the political climate is as dangerous as it could be to those who are hungry or poor, and with both parties and the President agreeing to a record $38 billion in cuts it is difficult to find many influential policymakers with the requisite fight in them to protect those most voiceless and vulnerable. As fasting symbolizes, we will truly have to put ourselves on the line in the months ahead, take risks, be willing to sacrifice, and use every strategy at our disposal, if we are to restore some sense of sanity and humanity to the effort to ensure that we achieve the goal of No Kid Hungry.


  1. Congratulations on the effort and for sharing your lessons. I find that my (very few) fasts are most meaningful for reflection when I don't have anything else on the calendar. I can focus on the larger issues when I am not responding to others and no one is expecting my contributions in the moment.

  2. Such excellent insights. On the few occasions that I have fasted successfully, I am always astonished by how difficult it is for me to focus on my work during the day. I can only imagine how this is magnified for young kids that are sitting in classrooms across the country with empty stomachs. As a mother with young kids that are fortunate enough to have food in their bellies, I hope and pray that our politicians wake up and take a closer look at these budget cuts... Thank you for all you do!