When I waste food am I being selfish?

The Hungry Planet


Backstory: I wanted to address food waste and privilege to Hank, but I didn’t want it is be just words he could choose to ignore.  I didn’t want to lecture.  I wanted him to understand.

For dinner last night I served: One cup of cooked oatmeal, one hard boiled egg and one roasted butternut squash to feed my family of three.  Inspired by the Aboubakar family in the Breidjing Refugee Camp in Chad, featured in the very important book The Hungry Planet, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio.


Me: Hank.  Time for dinner.  Please wash your hands and meet us at the table.

Hank: Coming. (pause) What are we having?

Pai: Your mãe (mom) has prepared a lovely meal for us.

Me: Thank you, papa.  Tonight we are having plain oatmeal, butternut squash, which is a kind of abóbora (in Portugal all squash are called pumpkin) and some protein. In our case a hardboiled egg.

Hank: Oh.

Me: I was thinking about food today and how lucky we are to have so many choices and I remembered the Aboubakar family in Chad, from this book. They are in the picture next to you and that food in front of them is all the food they have for one week.  They are refugees and have very limited choices.

Pai: You become a refugee when you are forced to leave a war or famine, when you have no food.

Hank: Like the kids who left the poison air (Syrian refugees)?

Pai: Yes.  When you are a refugee you do not have a home to return to and live with other people in your same situation.  Life is not easy.

Me: Do you see that boy there.  He is about your age.  This would be a meal he would eat with his family.  Here is some oatmeal, which is a grain, it is very good for you and this squash is full of vitamins and minerals and you can have 1/3 of this hardboiled egg.  Your papa and I will have the same, but since I love you and know you are growing I am going to give you a little of my food to give you more energy to run and play and laugh and dance and sing.

Hank: Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome.

Hank: Is this boy like the kids we help with UNICEF?

Pai: Yes.  We help with school and medications his food is provided by other organizations.

Me: This boy’s mother cannot go to the store.  She has no place for a garden. She has no other options.  This meal is the kind of food they eat every day while they live in the refugee camp.  But they are safe and that is very important.

Hank: And happiness is what makes you rich.

Me: That is what I think.  And do you see those oilcans?  They do not have oil, but water.  This family does not have water close to them.  They have to walk and get their water.  Imagine traveling for water every day.

Pai: Your avó Dalia (grandmother) had to walk for water for her family of ten every day here in Portugal.

Hank: And wash their clothes in the river.

Me: Yes.  That is why tonight we have water to drink and not juice…

Hank: or wine.

Pai: Yes.  (pointing to the photo) This food is their only option.

Hank: (tastes the plain oatmeal and moves on to the egg) I like oatmeal cookies.  I bet this boy likes oatmeal cookies.

Pai: This boy doesn’t get oatmeal cookies.  He doesn’t get cakes.  This is the food he has.  There is not enough sugar to make cookies. They only have 1.4 lbs.  (reading) There is oil for cooking and lentils, peas, garlic, 6 oz of dried goat meat and the bone, limes. Okra, red peppers, dried tomatoes.  There is no candy.  There are no treats.  To some people food is to live.

Me: Food is very different all over the world.  That is what this book helps to teach us.  This boy is the same as you.  We are all the same.  The only difference between people is if their heart is good or if their heart is broken and mean.  We have more choices and that is a privilege.  I don’t want you to feel bad about your life. Your life is a gift.  I want you to respect this boy. If you met him you would be friends.  I want you to know about his life and so when you have choices about food you remember your choices are a privilege.

Pai: In this house we do our best to not waste food.  We do not over buy and we eat what we cook until it is gone.

Hank: When I waste food I am being selfish?

Pai: No, you have the option to do as you want and more food will be available to you, but you also have the power to make a better choice.

Hank: Can I turn the page?

Me: Please do.


Killing time before school


Hank: Mama.  I need to tell you something.  My dance teacher wants us to wear tênis (tennis shoes) to school on Mondays.

Me: I will add it to my list. Any other big news?

Hank: No…  What is this big book?

Me: (looking over) Oh.  That is a very important book.  It is a book of words.

Hank: All books have words.

Me: TRUE, but this book is a list of only words and no stories.  This is a Thesaurus. It is a very important book and not at all a dinosaur.


Me: You know: Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Abydosaurus, and my favorite Gasosaurus, which means gas lizard.  Remember to always be aware of your corporate sponsors!!!  (laughing, shaking head) ANYWAY.  A thesaurus is a list of any kind of word and the other words that mean the same thing.  This is an important tool for writing and for killing large bugs as it is very heavy and black so it doesn’t show stains.

Hank: Splat!

Me: Give me a word…  any word.

Hank: (thinking) um, dun, bum, ooba: turn.

Me: (riffling through pages until) Turn: period, periodicity, change, reversion, tendency, form, curve, make round, blunt, land travel…  Did you know that if you lived when life used to be you could ask a young friend, “to take a turn about the garden,” and you would be saying the same thing as, “lets explore this garden and look for lagartixas (lizards).”

Hank: Really?

Me: Yes.  And look at all the words you can use instead of turn to carry your same meaning in a story. Look at all these columns starting here and ending at turnip.

Hank: TURNIP!!! (roaring in laughter)

Me: (laughing by contagion) What’s so funny about turnips?

Hank: (shrugs and continues laughing) Turnips.

Me: Why is that funny? A turnip is a perfectly practical addition to any soup. It also can mean a timekeeper.

Hank: (positively purple with laughter)


Giving Space


Me: (frustrated) Hank Pereira, it is 9pm.  You have officially been doing your homework for one hour and ten minutes.  You have fifteen minutes remaining before you will have to stop and go to bed.  I am giving you fair warning.

Hank: (über frustrated) BUT MOM!!  I. AM. NOT. FINISHED. (pencil slamming)

Me: What homework could possibly take a six year old one hour and ten minutes?

Pai: He has to write a story in four sentences using these key words.

Me: Oh.

Hank: SEE!  You understand.  YOU KNOW WHAT IT TAKES TO INVENT A STORY!! And I have to write a fraze (phrase) with helicóptero (helicopter) and I don’t know many palavoras (words)!!  I AM STILL LEARNING!  This is not easy.

Me: Ok.  Ok.  Tem calma (be calm).  I hear you.  I understand.  For some writers a deadline is very helpful.

Hank: Xiu (Shhh)! Mama, I need space.

Pai: (desperately trying not to laugh)

Me: (silently backing away)