I read All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? by Joel Berg in college. I’m not sure what made me pick up this book, but it changed the way I looked at my country and how it treats its least served populations. In this book, Berg writes about a report done on hunger in America that chooses to label people on the brink of starvation as “very food insecure”, failing to use the word starvation or starving at all. Based on this definition the protagonists in White Hunger are very, very food insecure.
White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen takes place in the late 1800s during a great famine in Finland. The book tells the story of a family trying to make their way to Russia in hope of food to survive the famine through the perspective of 4 narrators. The senator, the daughter, the mother, and the son all tell their stories that are interconnected to one great struggle. White Hunger was my fourth #manbookering read, and for a while it was my favorite. It’s not often that I read a book set in place before the western industrial revolution. That in combination of knowing almost nothing about Finland, made this book easy to engage with and hard to put down.
This book was gripping to me, because it didn’t sugarcoat the realities that these famines had on families, and particularly communities. In one of the first chapters, the family has to leave their dying father behind because he is too sick to travel and there isn’t enough food for the healthy individuals. The children are too young to really know what was going on, but are still upset about leaving their father. The mother is portrayed as strong, doing all she can to protect and provide for her family.
Although this book is set in a time period long ago, food insecurity is a real thing that people in developed AND developing countries. In the US, 48.1 million people live in food insecure households.* In Australia, 2 million people rely on food relieve services.** 1 out of 8 Canadian families struggle to put food on the table.*** When I was in college, I was passionate about food security and homelessness in the US. I once walked around for 10 minutes Washington, DC to buy the particular kind of food a homeless individual wanted. (Please note this was stupid, and I didn’t eat dinner that night.) But I think the more comfortable I’ve gotten in my life and my privileges the more I’ve forgotten about the number of starving people around the world. This book was a good reminder about how many people don’t have the luxury to forget.
*- US Hunger
** – Australian Hunger
*** – Canadian Hunger