Shavuot, food insecurity and ‘The Little Red Hen’ - comment

Food insecurity is a reality for thousands of Israeli school children. Being reminded of this reality can perhaps come from many places, including from a well-known children’s book.

 NEVET, AN Israeli nonprofit, provides over 10,000 healthy, fresh sandwiches daily to students who need them (Illustrative).  (photo credit: OMRI SHAPIRA)
NEVET, AN Israeli nonprofit, provides over 10,000 healthy, fresh sandwiches daily to students who need them (Illustrative).
(photo credit: OMRI SHAPIRA)

As is human nature, we often drive past seemingly endless fields of grain and give little thought to the massive amount of work that is involved in taking those amber grasses and transforming them into the bread we eat every day.

The months of planning, preparing, nurturing, watering, waiting and working are often taken for granted. And while it is natural for us to see bread and water always available whenever we walk into the local market or turn on the tap, perhaps on the holiday of Shavuot it is worthwhile to acknowledge that’s not the case for everyone.

And we are not just talking about poor people in a third world country. The absence of food security is a reality for thousands of Israeli school children each and every day.

The Little Red Hen

Being reminded of this reality can perhaps come from many places, including from a well-known children’s book written in 1874, The Little Red Hen.

The short story details the work of a red hen after she comes across some wheat seeds and excitedly asks her fellow animal friends for help in planting them. They all lazily refuse. As she invests time and effort in each step of the long process, she continues to ask for their help and they continue to reject her requests, until one day she shows them loaves of freshly baked bread. They all jump at the chance to enjoy the fruits of her labor but instead she is now the one to refuse their advances and runs away with the bread.

Global food crisis due to war-ravaged wheat fields

If one prefers a more contemporary and pressing example, appreciating that we are all dependent on global food cycles, 2022 has presented a further reminder of what wheat means in our lives. By some accounts, nearly a third of the world’s wheat production comes from Russia and Ukraine. An extremely sizable percentage of that product is stuck in war-ravaged regions or may not even be able to be harvested from fields that have become casualties of war, or because of equipment or shipping routes that have been destroyed.

THESE TWO very different examples demand of us to rethink what we so normally take for granted.

The Little Red Hen is perhaps a difficult story to digest in twentieth century, more liberal, terms. But some of the lessons remain as relevant today as they did a century and a half ago. Specifically, the hard work of others is not something to be overlooked or expected, without our contributing directly to the effort.

The war-imposed shortage should motivate us to realize that as plentiful as we think grain and wheat is in our modern, machine-driven world, that reality can and does change very quickly.

And so, as we approach this holiday when wheat and produce are such central symbols, we are reminded that bread is not something we should ever take for granted.

Childhood food insecurity has serious consequences

It certainly isn’t for the teachers of the 11,000 young students we provide sandwiches at participating Israeli schools across the country daily. People have seen how a simple, healthy sandwich can dramatically change the atmosphere in the classroom for those families struggle to put food on the table.

They have seen anger and misbehavior subside when students aren’t focusing on their hunger pains. They have shown us how there has been a rise in attendance rates and a decline in smoking on school grounds because of these two pieces of humble bread. For them, these children and us, bread is a game changer.

Perhaps as we sit down with our families on Shavuot, this holiday celebrating the wheat harvest and our collectivity as a Jewish nation, it would be fitting if we take the time to remember that not everyone has easy access to that bread. To remember that we as a community and as a Jewish nation need to make the effort to look far past what meets the eye and do our part in providing bread and sustenance to all those who need it.

The author is CEO of NEVET, an Israeli nonprofit organization that provides over 1.75 million healthy fresh sandwiches annually to students who need them.