It seems like life is made up of an ongoing series of choices: from childhood through maturity, we graduate from choosing our favorite toy or color to deciding what career to pursue or to selecting where to invest our hard-earned dollars. At times, it feels as if we’re forced to make difficult decisions at a great cost.
Yet life is also about taking a stand and refusing to make choices we don’t necessarily have to make—especially what I consider to be a “false” choice, like choosing between feeding elders and feeding children. When it comes to ending hunger, no one should have to make this choice of deciding who, or what charitable group, to support. All people should be able to eat. Period.
A Vision to End Hunger
As CEO of the Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA), I stand up for our vision to end senior hunger by 2020. It is an immense challenge. Our network represents 5,000 Meals On Wheels programs across the nation that serve more than 1 million meals daily to elders in need. Some programs serve meals at locations like senior centers, some programs deliver meals directly to the homes of older adults whose mobility is limited and many programs provide both services.
It’s hard to imagine that an older individual in our community, possibly in our neighborhood, is going hungry. But it’s happening. Nearly 6 million older Americans face the threat of hunger, and the numbers are only getting worse. In recent years, hunger rates have more than doubled for lowincome elders, and there will be more older adults to provide for considering our troubled economy and the fact that elders are the fastest-growing cohort in the U.S. population.
Going hungry is horrible, and it is particularly appalling that people are experiencing hunger when there is enough food produced to feed everyone. Hunger is detrimental to one’s health, especially in older age. Elders at risk of hunger are likely to have the same limitations in activities of daily living as an individual who is 14 years older. So if you’re 64, but going hungry, you are more likely to reflect the physical age of 78. Plus, the cost of one year’s worth of nutritious, home-delivered meals roughly equals the cost of one day in the hospital.
The False Dichotomy
Those who work in our local Meals On Wheels programs see many difficult cases while they struggle to cater to increasing demand within limited budgets. But, even as MOWAA looks to raise awareness and resources to help more elders, conditions of need that exist in American society pit our cause against a myriad of equally worthy causes, sometimes forcing the public to choose which cause to support. In the case of older adults facing hunger, we are often positioned against America’s children, who face a similar plight. Do we care more for our children or our elders?
This is a false dichotomy. Yes, times are tough. While it’s true people may only be able to give to or volunteer for a single cause, this doesn’t mean they should forget that every one of us deserves to eat—and eat healthfully.
Though much of my career has been devoted to bringing attention to the challenges of older individuals and their access to proper nutrition, this does not diminish my empathy or the sense of injustice I feel when I see an image of a child suffering from malnutrition. I am also angered to learn of gender injustices or the mistreatment of animals. But, when it comes to ending hunger, I refuse to make a choice that is ultimately false by supporting one demographic over another.
Many of us are working in or have an interest in the field of aging. Others, including myself, are experiencing the joys, opportunities and challenges of aging. That doesn’t mean we should lose perspective or take a side that doesn’t really exist. There are many decisions we have no choice but to make as we crawl, walk, race and stroll through life. Children versus elders—who gets to eat—does not have to be one of them.
Enid Borden is president and CEO of the Meals on Wheels Association of America.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the January/February, 2012, issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy nationwide. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.
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