By , October 23, 2015

“I’m hungry.” “I’m starving.” “I could eat a [insert large animal of choice to maximize comic effect here].”

We all say such things without thinking. It’s small talk, cultural shorthand, a complaint tossed off when none is particularly necessary, like condemning the weather or disparaging school or work.

Lately, though, I wonder if I have ever really, truly felt hungry in my adult life?

Like my father before me, I get irascible at meal times. He and I become what the family calls “a bear.”

My mother used to tell a story of one evening, when my older brother and I raced past her through the kitchen, shouting, “Feed him, Mommy, feed him!” Dad came grumbling and muttering after us seconds later. Even as children, we knew the solution to his irratibility.

As an adult, I generally manage my mood better. Partly, I try to analyze why I’m reacting poorly to minor irritations, and adjust my attitude accordingly. Since I cook many of our dinners, I start preparing early when possible, and even eat before Michelle gets home from work. I try to make sure I sit down to dinner by 5:30 p.m. for my own comfort, alone or in company, which works well.

I assume we get this way because of a drop in blood sugar, which one may call hunger. The word “hunger” describes many different human conditions, physical, mental, and spiritual. In our society, it may be more useful as a metaphor than an actual description.

Because, while real hunger—a critical lack of food—does exist in this country, the vast majority of us have probably never experienced it beyond infancy.

I suspect that what I regard as “feeling hungry” in my life has more to do with choosing that label for other conditions I experience in a day: the above mentioned blood sugar drop, a growling stomach, a craving for and anticipation of flavors, or simply an awareness that an established mealtime has arrived.

The last one seems most telling. If a project keeps me busy, I can breeze past a mealtime without thinking. I find it easy to skip a meal entirely if stopping to eat proves inconvenient. If I’m unoccupied, the next mealtime can’t come soon enough! We readily acknowledge that food provides entertainment in our family, and strive to moderate the resulting desires so as not to over eat or waste food.

This all indicates that, whatever we may think, we are actually very well fed. We replenish spent fuel regularly, maintaining energy levels that flag very little overall. We have the luxury of labelling inconsequential feelings as “hunger” without truly knowing what true hunger might really be like.

I could be wrong in my assumption. Were I to scour my 55 years of experience, I could probably find a few relatively brief instances where I might truly have been hungry, separated from food for too long a period. However, since none comes immediately to mind, I likely never have known such a condition. At least, I never experienced hunger to the point that it left a lasting impression on me.

I find this both reassuring and humbling. I’m glad to have avoided true deprivation in my life. I’m grateful for circumstances that preserve me from knowing true hunger. I hope to have the humility, the grace, and the resources to do what I can to prevent others from knowing it as well.

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