Teens can help in the battle to eliminate hunger Print
Youth Column
Written by Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 -- 9:13 AM

Have you ever been hungry?

I’m not talking about the rumbling in your stomach while you’re desperately unwrapping a snack or that restless feeling you get right before dinner.

I’m talking about real hunger, the kind that takes over your body and turns you into a different person: the stabbing pain of a too-empty stomach that leads to shaking hands, anger, and irritability of a body that isn’t getting the proper nutrition. It brings the awful despair of not knowing where your next meal is going to come from.


When people in our midst talk about being hungry, it’s usually been less than a day since they ate. Most of us don’t know what hunger really means. We don’t know what it’s like to starve in famine-struck, war-torn areas were food is as scarce as peace.


Last month, I had to undergo a medical test that required that I not eat anything for about 48 hours. Halfway through, I started whining about how bad I felt to a friend:

“I’m staaaaaaarving,” I complained.

“No, you’re not,” she replied.

Her response stunned me and made me think that I had only once in my life gone a day without eating.

I don’t eat gourmet food every day. My diet is made up of ramen, macaroni, and whatever’s on sale. But I eat every day. Compared to others, that makes me rich.

My fast got me thinking. How can the United States have an obesity problem when children in other parts of the world are dying due to lack of basic nutrition? Why are we so obsessed with losing weight when there are people in the world who haven’t eaten for days?

An acquaintance of mine returned to the United States after a year with the Peace Corps in sub-Saharan Africa and reported walking into a supermarket, seeing the amount of food laid out on the shelves and feeling sick to her stomach because of the inequality.

How can she have a choice of 15 brands of sliced bread that she could eat all by herself if she wanted to, when one family in her African village barely had one loaf to split among seven children?

The problem isn’t limited to other countries. In the United States, 1 in 6 people don’t have enough to eat. That means there are people in your classes who can’t concentrate on school because they didn’t eat breakfast this morning and are worried about not getting dinner.

There is enough food in the world to feed every human being alive — and those of us who are fortunate enough to call hunger a momentary roadblock and not a constant predicament should be out there, leading the way to making sure everyone has decent nutrition. We have the resources; we just need to get them to the people who don’t.

Teens are qualified to lead the effort to eliminate hunger. They have time, energy and, most important, good friends for teamwork. Teens can be leaders in running canned food drives, cooking meals at homeless shelters, stocking shelves at food pantries and raising money for charities overseas.

Next time you’re hungry, don’t immediately reach for a snack. Instead, stop for a moment and think about how hunger really feels — and remember that you can make a difference for others.

Karen Dietlein Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y.


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