Ethics and eating

I readily call myself privileged but volunteering at a South Bronx food pantry* recently showed me my privilege in a stark light. As I assembled bags of vegetables to be distributed, I was reminded of the bag of produce I buy twice monthly for $30 from an organic farm. I had been confident that this $30 is well-spent – supporting a local farm, eating at home, avoiding processed food. Feeding myself such healthy food is a form of self-care that I usually don’t feel guilty about.  However, my recent bag of arugula, lettuce, spring onions, kale, rosemary and Japanese turnips looks uncomfortably precious when I compare it to the cabbage, onions, carrots, and indestructible tomatoes that we presented to people suffering from food insecurity. When almost 20% of NYC children are food insecure, I wonder if my priorities are misplaced.

The day I volunteered, along with the produce, we distributed a bag of non-perishables, plus milk, yogurt and eggs. I was told that the quantity and quality of the food distributed varies from week to week. Someone struggling to feed a family must hope to show up on a day with more and better food… one more way that people with fewer resources are vulnerable to random luck.

The pantry permits one pick-up per household per month and a few people were turned away because they had already received their monthly distribution. It wasn’t my place to object, but I have been wondering about alternatives to turning people away.  Many of the clients brought shopping carts but several were not prepared for the volume of packages. Some of the pantry employees seemed impatient with this lack of preparedness while I wished I could help those recipients carry their food home. My thoughts are probably signs of naivete.

I have a frequent internal debate about how much I should do for others, and especially the others who are NOT my nearest neighbors or friends. I try to resolve this debate by being generous with how I spend my time and money but that usually feels inadequate. I will keep working toward a better answer.

*I volunteered through NY Cares, which I recommend to New Yorkers interested in community engagement. After a straightforward registration process, the website offers dozens of one-off volunteering opportunities in a variety of time slots and fields of interest. It is a great way to explore volunteering opportunities before committing to an organization or to do something useful with a random chunk of time.

One thought on “Ethics and eating

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience at the food pantry and volunteering through NYCares. That is a good resource.


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