by guest blogger Debbie Brown
photo courtesy Debbie Brown
One billion people will not get enough to eat today.
Twenty-five thousand children will die today of starvation or easily preventable childhood illnesses.
There is enough food in the world RIGHT NOW to feed every single person 3500 calories per day.
Debbie Brown recently returned from a month-long trip to Zambia, Africa
Today I want to talk about food in my family. I am 50% Irish (my mom is 100% Irish), 25% German, and 25% British (the name “Brown” is British; it is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name). While, as Jill pointed out, the Germans have some delicious food, the Irish and the English aren’t exactly known for their cuisine, which mostly consists of “boiling everything to death.”
My mom is no exception. She was never a good cook. She had a few recipes and cooked straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. I do admire her though; she had four kids, my dad was disabled, she worked full time and still had dinner on the table every single night. And this was before microwaves, “instant” anything, or any type of “fast” or “prepared” food.
But the thing about food in my childhood isn’t about about my mom being a horrible cook. It is about the reverence and respect my parents had for all they were given, and the knowledge that many people around the world don’t have dinner on the table every night, let alone breakfast or lunch.
I did not grow up wealthy. My dad is a disabled veteran (WWII) who is a theologian and writes books that the other five Calvinist theologians in the world read. My mom went back to college when I was little and became a school teacher who taught in Christian schools, where teaching is considered a “ministry,” and therefore, comes with very little pay. There were four kids in my family. So we didn’t have a lot to start with. But our parents never let us forget how blessed and fortunate we were.
My parents, since the time they were married in 1958, and continuing on to this day, give 50% of their income to charity. Some goes to the church, but the majority of it goes to people who need it. They have sponsored numerous children through World Vision, even putting some of them through college. They give to “Samaritan’s Purse,” an affiliate of the Billy Graham ministry, which brings wells/water to villages around the world. They support many individual volunteer workers in so-called “third world” countries. It would take an entire blog in itself to name all the places my parents give money to. Diane, you may be happy to know they even give monthly to the Humane Society because as my dad says “God loves all animals.”
Photo courtesy Debbie Brown
We were made very aware of this growing up. Monday nights were “meatless” nights at our house. My parents had a piggy bank. Every Monday night around the dinner table, they would put on a little show. My dad would say, “Mother, how much money did we save tonight by not eating meat?” Mom would say “a dollar fifty,” or something like that, and then they would put that much money into the piggy bank. At the end of the month, we would “vote” at a family meeting on where our “meatless Monday” money would go. There were also two other piggy banks (actually, “kitty” banks) that sat on the buffet by the dining table. One was for church and one for the “deacon’s fund.” The deacon’s fund was a fund in our church where people would voluntarily donate money and then if someone in the church had financial problems, the deacons could give them money out of the fund to help them out. As kids, no matter what kind of jobs we had, we were required to give 10% of our money to the church bank and 10% to the deacon’s fund bank.
My parents never let us forget about “the starving kids in Asia” (starving kids in Africa didn’t come ‘til later). And we sacrificed. This money wasn’t coming from some extra trust fund or something. We literally had a much lower standard of living—not that it wouldn’t have been that great anyway—because my parents gave 50% of their income away.
I was really resentful of this as a teenager, and even into adulthood. We either got used clothing, or ordered it out of the Sears catalog—death for a teenager! We had one car, a Volkswagen bug, and all four of us kids had to sit in back! We ate really, really cheap food, and had the “meatless Mondays.” Mom gave us our haircuts (and she was worse at that than the cooking!). As teenagers, there were no new cars—we walked or biked it. We were never allowed to “waste money.” Even though we had to donate 20% of our money, we still couldn’t just spend the rest like we wanted. We were always reminded “a lot of people don’t even have food or a home! And you want the new Queen record??” It really began to irritate me.
As a young college student I was extremely jealous of the things the other kids had. I was embarrassed that I lived in a trailer park. A trailer park! My parents both have advanced college degrees and yet I was called “trailer trash” in high school! Everyone else (it seemed) had a car. Cool clothes, like Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or Levis. I had Sears wranglers, if I was lucky. Why did WE have to give so much, when we didn’t even have that much to start with! NO ONE else I knew gave 50% of their income to charity! The Biblical 10% preached by our church was considered on the high side for most of my friends. I really resented my parents for years, feeling they had somehow “cheated” us out of things in my younger years.
Photo courtesy Debbie Brown
But you know what? Today I could not be more grateful for my upbringing. My parents were right. We were fabulously wealthy compared to almost everybody else in the whole world! I had food every single day. I had clothes that were clean. I had a roof over my head. I had a wonderful education. I had the opportunity to go to college. What did I really miss out on? Wearing a bunch of stuck-up clothes like the stuck-up kids I didn’t connect with anyway? So I had a few bad haircuts and had to ride my bike everywhere. My parents gave us everything we needed and more. We didn’t go to movies or out to dinner or to any type of “paid entertainment.” It was just us. We played tons of board games around the family table, from Scrabble to Monopoly. My parents read to us every single night, even all the way through high school. I have such fond memories of that, and of hearing the great classics read in my parents’ expressive voices. We played “balloon volleyball” in the house and even staged plays for each other. We had love and joy and warmth and each other. I missed out on nothing.
But there are hundreds, maybe over a thousand, people elsewhere in the world who directly benefitted from my parents’ generosity. There are college graduates doing work in so-called “third world” countries who would be poverty-stricken or dead if not for my parents. There was the family in Seattle who had their heat turned off one winter; my parents paid the $900 back payment (which was a huge amount of money in 1975!) and that family had a warm winter season. We always had 20-30 people at our house for Thanksgiving—people my parents just invited off the streets or the mission or wherever they found them. People constantly lived with us—the homeless, the downtrodden, many refugees from Viet Nam and Romania and the Ukraine. My parents are people who have actually made the world a better place.
I wish I could say today that I give 50% of my income to charity. I don’t. I try to be like my parents, try to be generous. I do give to my church, and I support one child through World Vision. I serve meals to Tent City on occasion. I try to volunteer where I can. I would like to live up to my parents’ standard because I truly believe they lived their lives the right way. We don’t need all the crap we have! When I was in Africa earlier this autumn, I found out what is actually a “necessity” and what is “luxury.” And guess what? Stuff like refrigerators, hot showers, soap, more than one change of clothing, transportation other than walking, even toilet paper…not a necessity! We are so rich. There isn’t a person I met in Zambia who wouldn’t trade places with me in an instant—my little basement apartment is far beyond anything they can even conceive of.
I occasionally spend a lot of money on food. I generally spend pretty frugally on food—making big pots of chili or soup and freezing it and eating it for a month. But sometimes I like to take a friend or two out to a really nice dinner and just enjoy an evening with friends and some really really great food. On the other hand, there are times when I have sacrificed something I would have wanted in order to help someone else out who needed it more. It’s a journey, and I’m not there yet.
Photo courtesy Debbie Brown
So…to bring it back around to food. In my house we had “meatless Monday” spaghetti (noodles with tomato soup!), sponge-like pancakes, casseroles with only the tiniest hint of meat or cheese in them, milk made from powder (usually served room-temperature warm), and some pretty gruesome “lasagna” made from noodles (not lasagna noodles—too expensive), cottage cheese instead of ricotta, maybe 1/3 lb of hamburger, and tomato soup. When we had food in the garden, that is what we ate, even if it meant we had squash as our main dish twenty days in a row!
But looking back, I wouldn’t trade the horrible food for the books, games, and family fun. There IS enough food in the world to feed EVERYONE adequately every day, and if we were all like my parents, it could really happen. I want to thank my parents for never neglecting to remind me that I am one of the lucky ones.