Do you think about being hungry? Hunger is something I actually think of a lot because I tend not to get very hungry. Instead I regularly cook and bake myself little bites here and there as I try to carve out a job for myself in the food world. It suits me a great deal to savor many mouthfuls of food throughout the day... even if a fair number of those bites end up being sweets. I long for the days that I work hard outdoors, for days that long walks and physical activities take me away from my kitchen. On those days, when I’ve allowed enough time to conjure an appetite, even the simplest of foods taste better to me.

While I can think about my hunger in a romanticized way, I realize so many people in our world are deprived of the basics of eating to simply sustain themselves. They aren’t thinking about their next kitchen experiment as I am, or how to maybe make a little money using food as their vehicle. They think about how to keep their families fed.

A while back I read the book by Jonathan Bloom called American Wasteland. If I took anything away from that book, it was the sheer amount of food that our country produces. So much, in fact, that “every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes, that Rose Bowl - the 90,000-seat football stadium in Pasadena, California. Of course, that's if we had an inclination to truck the nation's excess food to California for a memorable but messy publicity stunt.” (I've quoted that passage on my blog before, but really I have it committed to memory. The image of that stadium heaped with mostly viable food is overwhelming to me.) I have become much better at not wasting food on a personal level, but much can still be done on my part to help take some of that wasted food to feed others who are still really hungry.

Milwaukee has many amazing individuals and organizations who help distribute donated food to those who really need it. One new grass roots organization, FoodFightMKE, was started this fall by OrangeAid interns Joel Rottier from University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Bryan Padovano from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and Sallie Stacker and Dominic Mertens-Pellitteri from Marquette University.

FoodFightMKE is an effort to educate more people in our community about the real hunger that exists here, and to partner with and support the Hunger Task Force in their efforts to effectively distribute it. They are using social media outlets to effectively spread the word about hunger, and to engage more people to volunteer and take an interest in this issue.

FoodFightMKE is hosting a Bread and Soup event at the Riverwest Public House this Thursday, December 15. The event runs from 6:00-8:30 p.m, and soup will be donated by area foodies and local chefs (contact or 414-807-5193 if you would like to contribute). The volunteers behind FoodFightMKE will be on hand to collect free-will donations on behalf of Hunger Task Force of Wisconsin.

There are also other ways to participate. Check out the FoodFightMKE website, and also the Hunger Task Force website for opportunities to help. You don’t have to give money or food, you can donate a few hours of your time helping to sort or distribute food, or even doing some data entry.

My own ideas on hunger, food waste, and food (re)distribution in America are complex. I remember reading once about a program like CookShop in New York City and thinking that if it were my passion and calling to tend to the nation’s hungry, I would start with a pound of beans and the knowledge of what to do with them. But sometimes, the realities of our culture and the immediate need of sustenance is most important, and what is best for some families is not for me to debate or criticize.

If the need of the hungry speaks to you, find the venue that best suits your abilities and availabilities. If nothing else, pondering the hungry is a good exercise in self-reflection. We can all benefit from the reminders that food is a miraculous thing, not to be taken for granted. It's something that in its basic, most primitive form is beautiful and overwhelmingly complex. It is something that, in the right hands, can transcend the everyday and become an art form. To have a body designed to thrive on eating is such a gift really, and our nation has been blessed with plenty. We should all at least work to be good stewards of what we have been given.