Brazos Press, 176 pages
Reviewed by Nancy Neal
Our politics are more polarized than we’ve experienced in recent history, but the hunger crisis in the United States can and should unite us. Everett argues that by coordinating our efforts across social and political divides, we can end what he calls the “systemic hunger disaster” in our country. As the founder and executive director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, Everett seeks to awaken compassion for the plight of people in the U.S. who struggle with food insecurity and to inspire and equip readers to take action in their own communities.
“I Was Hungry” tells the story of the Texas Hunger Initiative, an organization that partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas state agencies, the corporate sector and thousands of faith- and community-based organizations to develop and implement strategies to alleviate hunger. Along the way, Everett weaves in his own story as the son of a Baptist preacher, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, faithfully following God’s call to live and work in and with communities struggling with hunger and poverty. It’s also a practical guide to organizing a community by building trust and shared agendas to implement strategies for alleviating hunger.
The book is peppered with compelling stories of people who struggle with hunger and poverty, like the mom who keeps chicken bones in her refrigerator so her children don’t notice it’s empty or the undocumented elders in El Paso who reluctantly share that after decades of hard work in the U.S. they now experience regular bouts of food insecurity.
Toward the close of the book, Everett writes: “We must end the idea that hunger and poverty are acceptable socioeconomic conditions. I fundamentally believe we do not see the poor as our equals, as created in the image of God, just as we are.” Throughout the book, Everett argues for a breaking down of the divides between “us” and “the hungry.” He offers a model of coalition-building and tells stories about community successes.
The book reads like an outsider view on the work of alleviating hunger. Presumably, this allows the audience – moderately conservative white middle-class U.S. Christians who live firmly outside the grips of hunger and poverty – to better relate to Everett’s experience. At times, he humbly shares his blunders along the way and names assumptions about impoverished people, which the reader will likely share. He brings the reader along as he tells story after story of how those assumptions are challenged by the people with whom he lives and works.
The narrative never quite makes the shift from “us and them” to “we.” I would have liked to see a breaking down of the divides modeled in the writing. A missed opportunity to model that shift might be in a reflection about the successes of the Texas Hunger Initiative. I was left wondering how these coalition efforts have affected hunger in the state.
Without question, “I Was Hungry” presents an aspirational model for alleviating hunger that could be adapted in any community by engaging across sectors in a coordinated effort. The book is an easy read and could be used in conjunction with other resources to help a group explore more justice-oriented approaches to alleviating hunger.
Nancy Neal is the director of church relations at Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging national decision-makers to end hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world. She lives and works in Washington, DC. (Jeremy Everett is a board member of Bread for the World and David Beckmann, who wrote the preface, is president.)