Probably the most indelible image of an American Thanksgiving is Norman Rockwell’s painting of a proud matriarch placing a plump turkey before a tableful of beaming relatives. What’s often seen as a quaint portrayal of Americana was actually a bold political statement: The painting, Freedom from Want, was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address in 1941. In describing America’s global vision, Roosevelt spoke of “four freedoms,” and went beyond two values contained in the Constitution — freedom of speech and of worship — to include freedom from fear and want. The latter, said Roosevelt, “translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.”
Rockwell translated “freedom from want” into terms we would call heimish — a family able to put food on a table, and plenty of it. As any Jewish grandmother will tell you, food is love — and security.
And yet a new report from the United States Department of Agriculture suggests that “household food insecurity” — that is, a measure of families’ inability to put enough food on the table — was at its highest point since the government began measuring this statistic in 1995. In 2008, 17 million households, or 14.6 percent, were food “insecure,” an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, in 2007. According to the report, nearly one in four children was at risk of hunger in 2008.
Addressing this sort of want is a responsibility of the public and private sector. Jewish organizations are active in both. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, representing the network of community relations agencies, is calling for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. Among other things, the act provides an outline for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. JCPA is urging that the legislation include $4 billion a year in new funding for the next five years.
The JCPA is also partnering with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger in promoting a “Child Nutrition Seders” awareness program around Passover.
Meanwhile, local Jewish family service agencies are scrambling to maintain supplies at their network of food pantries, which have suffered a double whammy from declining contributions and expanding pressures for their services.
Whether your preference is for government programs or private philanthropy, Thanksgiving is the time to recommit yourself and your family to doing something.
This Thanksgiving, take a look at the smiling faces around your table, and remember those who may not fit into the picture.