I’m guessing not a lot of billionaires know what it’s like to go hungry.
I’m not talking about “missed a meal” or “on a diet” hungry, but the type of hungry you can only feel when you have eaten nothing — or very little — for days at a time. I’m talking about the kind of hungry you can only feel when not only have you not eaten in a very long time, but you also don’t know when you might eat again.
You know, the kind of hunger a child has when he looks up at his or her mom and asks for something to eat, only to see her turn away and wipe away tears because she knows there’s nothing left in the cupboard. The kind of hungry that forces people to rely on the generosity of others for the sustenance needed just to get through the day.
Sorry, but billionaires have no idea what that could possibly feel like.
Betsy DeVos most certainly doesn’t.
DeVos — the Secretary of Education for the United States of America — recently made a joke about free lunches at the Conservative Political Action Conference: “I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately,” she said. “I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Yes, because starving children is such a laughing matter.
DeVos’ comments weren’t just a swipe at an opposing politician, either. She said that at a time when the National School Lunch Act — which provides free and reduced lunches for 31 million children in U.S. public schools — is under fire. Government officials are looking to cut funding for the program and make it harder for families to receive free and reduced lunches.
And before you write this off as some sort of partisan screed on my part, I would like to point out I was as vocal a critic as anyone of Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which sought to replace “unhealthy” school lunches with healthier, lower-calorie meals.
Sorry, but I can’t support any initiative that seeks to give kids whose only full meal may be the one they receive during lunch time at school every day one morsel less food than they already are receiving.
Of course, I’m guessing a billionaire like DeVos has no clue what it’s like to be a hungry child or have hungry children in her palatial mansion.
And you know what? In the interests of full disclosure, I am extremely grateful that I never have, either. While I certainly did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, I did grow up with plenty of full spoons in my mouth. I have never gone hungry a single day in my life, for which I am blessed.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t know and haven’t seen kids who do go hungry. I knew they were sitting at the same lunch table as me when I went to school and I know they are sitting next to my children now. These are kids who have trouble focusing in school because they are hungry. These are kids who often face social stigmas because they are on a free or reduced lunch plan.
These are children we are talking about, for the love of all things holy. These aren’t grifters looking to live off the government dime. These are children who are starving because of situations beyond their control.
And yes, I do understand that providing children with free or reduced lunches does come at a cost to taxpayers. But I find it hard to believe we can’t find another bloated program to cut from in the interests of keeping children from going hungry, right? I bet I can’t throw a rock in Washington, D.C. without hitting some sort of wasteful government program.
Fortunately, there are still good people out there who seem willing to help. Because my job requires me to be in school buildings, I’ve personally seen dozens of teachers and coaches feeding students with money out of their own pockets to make sure they get enough to eat.
But there’s only so much they can do on a personal level. Also, they don’t do it because they want some sort of humanitarian award — they do it because it breaks their hearts to see a kid going hungry.
It should also break the heart of every politician who is considering cutting funding to school lunch programs. Of course, in some cases, that would require them to have a heart to begin with.
To be quite honest, I’m beginning to have my doubts.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong