Anne Horrigan Geary: Birds, parents deal with food insecurity


DALTON >> The hummingbird brood has increased in size, and as this year's babies have matured, they are slurping through sugar water at a rapid rate. There also is some scuffling going on around the sources of food — the feeders and the hanging plants procured for their benefit, such as the cigar plant and the fuchsia. One bird will sit on a branch of the grapevine near a feeder and watch for other birds. When one arrives, the guard starts making a clacking sound, then ruffles his feathers. Finally, he will fly at the intruder, loop around and come back to his perch.

I imagine the human equivalent of this is: "Scram. This is mine and you can't have it."

Kids especially are territorial about their food, often when unhealthy snacks are involved. My kids never fought over carrots, but let one piece of cake be infinitesimally larger than the other and war was declared.

The same was true of middle schoolers at lunchtime. When I had the misfortune of serving the equivalent of a prison sentence, a/k/a lunch duty, there were many unkind words spoken about food and its ownership. Kids griped about the cafeteria offerings, their portions, and the trades they tried to effect with lunch table neighbors. Sometimes the scene was so unpleasant, I didn't even want to eat the container of yogurt I brought for my own lunch Getting the tables clean was another story; but the worst part of the chore was making sure trays and lunchbox rejects were emptied carefully into the large black plastic garbage cans.

Seeing the half-eaten or hardly-touched food dumped into the barrel was disheartening. It was as bad as checking out some of the students' lunch choices: chips and soda were common in bag lunches. School lunches came with milk, and although the kids were required to take it, many never opened it.

Hummingbirds probably can't relate to the term "food insecurity." We used to call it, "not knowing where your next meal was coming from." Either way, birds must trust to luck and great hunting techniques to assure a full bird-size tummy. They are constantly on the move, and on the alert for the next bit of sustenance, be it a juicy bug, a nectar-laden flower, or a hanging feeder. I'm not sure that birds can worry, but they must have some sense of unease when they have trouble locating sources of sustenance.

How much more painful is it for parents to wonder about feeding their children regular, nutritious meals? The federal government provides meals for low-income children at school and often in summer. Food pantries run by churches and civic groups help when the food budget can't stretch to 30 days' worth of meals. The best thing I've seen this summer is the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables through local garden initiatives.

Teaching children to grow food is another big plus in the war against hunger. Many schools have gardens, and often the produce goes directly into the cafeteria. When I was growing up we always had a garden, as did most of my relatives. Picking and eating a ripe, red tomato was the highlight of a summer's day. My mother often canned the excess fruits and vegetables to enjoy in the middle of winter. I can't imagine what it's like not to have these memories, but so many lack them. Community gardens are doing a great job reversing this trend.

As summer winds down, the hummingbirds will fly south where their food supply will be ample. Let's hope our kids will return to school with lunch bags full of nutritious food, or get trays of equally healthful alternatives. Those well-nourished bodies and brains are our hope for the future.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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