When I left work yesterday, I noticed a crow on the curb near the parking lot, which was unusual. I wondered what he was doing, and as if to answer my question, he bobbed his head to the ground, stuck his beak in a small red bag, and pulled out a tidbit of food. He chewed the morsel and plucked another one out of the bag. Someone had dropped the food, and crows are opportunists. I stopped at the side of the driveway and watched, trying to figure out what he nibbled, but I couldn’t read the words on the shiny red package.

“What are you eating?” I asked. Yes, I said it out loud. Of course, I looked around first to see if I was alone.

If the crow could’ve talked, he probably would’ve said, “Move on, lady. Nothing to see here!” He kept bobbing, pecking, and munching.

But I wanted to know what he was eating, so I stepped toward him. He grabbed the bag with his beak and flapped his wings, taking flight. He landed on the roof of the building. The crow’s whole I-can-fly-and-you-can’t maneuver made me laugh at myself. Because he was right, and because what made me think he’d let me get close enough to read the label on the package. Up on the roof he continued to eat, safe from me and my prying eyes.

“I wasn’t going to eat your food,” I told him, again out loud. The crow might eat food he found on the ground, but I wasn’t going to.

I got into my car and started it. The radio came on. National Public Radio was airing a story about a drought in a country, whose name I’d missed. Not an ordinary drought, a drought brought on by global warning, said a man. Crops had failed, and hunger was growing. People were starving.

And I thought about the crow eating food off the ground that I would turn my nose up at.

And I thought about books. Because that’s what I do, I connect to stories.

Young Elie Wiesel in a concentration camp with other prisoners, all starving, becoming bones, eating scraps riddled with mold and bugs.

The starving North Koreans in the 1990s described by Barbara Demick in her book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. One-fifth of the North Koreans perished. Others survived by eating anything they could, stripping the land of edible vegetation. Their bodies deformed from lack of nutrients, forever announcing the hunger they endured.

Lev and Kolya, characters from the novel City of Thieves by David Benioff, imprisoned in Leningrad, awaiting execution, but given a chance to save themselves by finding a dozen eggs needed to bake a cake for the wedding of the daughter of a Soviet colonel, while thousands of Russians are starving, eating pigeons, dogs, cats, and eventually leather and glue from the binding of books.

I think about the crow eating junk food he found on the ground, something I claimed I wouldn’t do. I think about wars and drought, and crop failure, and food shortage, and hungry people. And I realize crow and I are lucky–crow because he lives in a land where people drop food and can afford to leave it on the ground; me because I live in a land where I don’t have to challenge a crow for scraps of food found on the ground.

Finally, I think about the Ukrainians, who last year at this time didn’t have to worry about food or heat or shelter. About the Pakistanis and the floods that decimated their crops. I think about people living through droughts and disasters. And I think about people in our country who go hungry. I remember an eighth-grade girl from years ago, who was caught stealing packaged cupcakes from the grocery store and arrested. Turned out she’d been stealing food from the store to feed herself and her little sister because the only parent in their life was an alcoholic who often had no money to buy groceries.

And I wonder . . . what I might eat or steal if disaster upended my world.

8 thoughts on “Food

  1. Some time ago, we had dinner with friends who invited an elderly neighbor. The neighbor was a survivor of WWII and told us of one time her mother caught, killed and cooked a stray cat for the survival of the family.

    “It tasted pretty good,” she said.

    I happen to love cats and dogs and could not thing of eating them. But if it meant the difference between my children starving or surviving? The children would win every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This to me is a Thanksgiving essay that ripened fully after the day. From a crow at the curb to the world and back again this is an effective journey. Thank you for posting the books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is. I was so struck by my thought “I wouldn’t eat anything off the ground,” and then turning on Public Radio and hearing a news report about drought, crop failure, and famine just moments later.


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