I was in the A&P late this afternoon, around 5:30, when I noticed that I was in a surly mood, almost itching for a fight with the woman behind the bakery counter who didn’t want to answer my question about the difference between two seemingly identical kinds of chocolate cake. I started to wonder what the hell was wrong with me, when I remembered that I hadn’t eaten since lunch, a good five hours earlier.
As my family can attest, I get cranky when I’m hungry. Really, really cranky.
I forced myself to be polite to the bakery person, and started thinking about food stamps and the Federal school breakfast and lunch program.
I’m a grownup, and when my blood sugar drops, I can barely compel myself to behave.
But what if I were eight years old?
What if the government officials who are supposed to represent me decided that hunger is really the best motivator for poor children? What if they decided that making sure I had enough to eat was far less important than making America a nicer place to be a billionaire?
What if I were sitting in class trying to learn to read or do long division, but I couldn’t concentrate because I was hungry, with no breakfast before school and no lunch to look forward to?
What if that crankiness led me to act up and get labeled a problem child, maybe emotionally disturbed, or just a stubborn, ornery kid who wasn’t worth her teachers’ emotional investment? What if, when my blood sugar dropped, I felt so exhausted that I lay my head down on the desk, and my teachers concluded that I didn’t care?
What if they also cut my family’s food stamps, so there wasn’t going to be much to eat when I got home, either?
It wouldn’t matter what set of standards my teachers were working from, nor how many high-stakes tests they gave me, nor whether I was learning from an iPad or a textbook or a stone tablet.
I wouldn’t have a chance.
Once this occurred to me, I decided not to solve the problem immediately by going to the Starbucks at the front of the store and buying a snack to eat on the spot.
I decided instead to finish shopping and interacting with humans and paying and loading and unloading groceries, and just sit with that feeling for a while–trying to hold it together, trying to understand what it would feel like to be a hungry child in school, knowing all the while, of course, that I could make that terrible feeling go away any time I chose.
In other words, I can’t possibly know what it would feel like to be a hungry child in school.
Still, I wish Paul Ryan would skip a few meals and use his imagination.