“Being Hungry Ain’t Pretty”

(NPHC member, Tevin Monroe, at anti-hunger conference in Washington, DC).


Recently, I attended a conference about anti-hunger initiatives. A common theme throughout the conference was about “engaging those with lived experience” — in other words, letting those who have real life experience of hunger and food insecurity speak for themselves. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier, a food bank serving the Southern Tier region of New York, has a program called the Speakers Bureau where people experiencing food insecurity and poverty are trained to share their stories. A member of the Speakers Bureau named Dawn Tallett spoke about her experience at this conference. “I’m not food insecure,” she told a crowd of 100+ academics, students, and anti-hunger advocates. “I’m hungry. I’m not ‘low income’” (here she sardonically made air quotes with her hands) I’m poor. People want to use all these nice words to pretty it up. But you know what? Being hungry ain’t pretty. Being poor ain’t pretty.”

Dawn was right — we do try to “pretty up” some very ugly, difficult human experiences. We use terms like food insecurity and poverty, and we really treasure these terms. We do a lot of research to describe them. We pass resolutions that define them. We hold conferences to discuss them. We write grants and design programs to ameliorate them. In all of this, though, it’s easy to forget the narratives of “people with lived experience,” or our neighbors who are struggling.

Attending this conference and hearing stories like Dawn’s was incredibly humbling. If I’m not including the perspectives of those who are in the weeds of poverty and hunger, then I’m missing the point entirely. This doesn’t just mean that I should take Dawn’s story and run, though. According to her, if you’ve heard the story of one poor person, you haven’t heard them all. One story can’t possibly stand in for the millions of stories in America, and billions around the world.

This post was written by NPHC member Tevin Monroe.

Tevin serves at UPMC Children's Adolescent Medicine as a Care Coordinator.