Hunger games in North Carolina

Unfortunately, this plot won't be a box-office hit:

Cameron is as sweet, smart and intuitive a kid as any parent could dream of, but he can’t have a glass of milk and a bowl of cereal with milk in it. He has to have one or the other, because his family doesn’t have the money to allow him that much milk in one sitting.

I do hope the soon-to-be-released movie does well, because our film industry needs the boost. But one danger of being immersed in fiction is the tendency to ignore the real tragedy that unfolds around us every day:

MANNA and Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, released a study in August reporting that a staggering 29.9 percent of children under the age of 18 are “food insecure” in Western North Carolina.

The study, “Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2011,” ranked North Carolina 11th in the country in child food insecurity, at 27.3 percent.

While Buncombe County was close to the state average, at 27.5 percent, counties on each end of WNC had levels of childhood food insecurity as high as 39 percent.

If you've never been truly hungry before (not talking about diets, although they can be brutal), consider yourself lucky.

The first time I experienced this, it was somewhat voluntary. I went through a survival course in the Army where they gave me one C-ration to last 6 1/2 days. By day 3 I was gnawing on the cardboard box it came in, and by day 5 I was rooting in the ground like my distant ancestors.

The second time was not violuntary. Chicago in the dead of Winter, looking for odd jobs like shoveling snow to earn enough to eat for a day or two.

In both cases, the growling stomach was actually not the worst effect of hunger. It was the psychological impact. Gone is the critical thinking, the appreciation of beauty, the musing on things philosophical. Your entire world is funneled into the desperate struggle for the next bite of food. And in that second case, which is the more common reality, there's also something else hovering at the edge of your consciousness: The growing feeling that you aren't a functional part of society anymore. You're a discard, who no longer hears the music that everybody else is dancing to.

I've experienced a lot of emotions in my life, but none can rival the soul-sucking gut-punch of that last thing. And the idea that so many of NC's children are going through that right now breaks my heart into hundreds of little pieces.

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