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Mayor Emanuel, Please Take The Food Stamp Challenge

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 5, 2012 4:10PM

Mayor Emanuel eating breakfast at Lou Mitchell's, via Facebook.

Mayor Emanuel,

How are things? Having a pretty good week? Have you walked across the plaza to grab some strudel from the Cristkindlmarket yet? Gosh, if we worked right there we would gain 20 pounds. But one of our friends saw you at a sushi restaurant in Lincoln Square a couple weeks ago and said you were looking great.

Enough small talk. Sir, it's time to make a personal statement about hunger in Chicago. Chicago is filled with hungry people—and they're not all homeless, visible or on the streets. One in five of your citizens are food insecure, meaning they aren't always sure where they will find their next meal. That's almost 600,000 Chicagoans. They're our neighbors, friends and fellow citizens, and they are your constituents. The problem is worse than ever, and it's growing.

Over in Newark (yes, Newark; can you believe we're comparing our great city with Newark?) Mayor Cory Booker has taken a personal stand against hunger. Just as the Greater Chicago Food Depository asked Chicagoans to take the SNAP Challenge, Mayor Booker is spending this week living on the same amount of money that a food stamp recipient gets. That's $29 for the week. He's sharing his experiences with videos, and it's pretty inspiring. He was challenged about the importance of food stamps by one of his constituents on Twitter and saw a chance to make a difference. He even gave up coffee and diet coke!

You're so much more fit and handsome than Cory Booker. Plus, you're cooler—in your first term, you've already shown that food politics are high on your agenda. While not everything has been perfect, we've already seen food truck reform, licensing reform and improvements to food deserts. Clearly, you care about food politics and hunger issues. But making hunger real, personal and understandable for Chicagoans, even for just a week, can have as much of an effect as a hundred policy speeches. Plus, it would go a long way to fixing the (false, we're sure) perception that you might be little bit out of touch with the poor after last week's "you can drive to work" mess.

Jane Addams, another great Chicagoan who cared about the poor, once wrote:

We all bear traces of the starvation struggle which for so long made up the life of the race. Our very organism holds memories and glimpses of that long life of our ancestors which still goes on among so many of our contemporaries. Nothing so deadens the sympathies and shrivels the power of enjoyment as the persistent keeping away from the great opportunities for helpfulness and a continual ignoring of the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half the race. To shut one’s self away from that half of the race life is to shut one’s self away from the most vital part of it; it is to live out but half the humanity to which we have been born heir.

Take a stand. Make sure the rest of humanity is seen. Join the SNAP Challenge. If you released a series of videos and blogs, each of which urged donations, you could raise thousands of dollars for hungry Chicagoans this holiday season. Even better, you could raise awareness of a problem that needs to be brought out of the shadows. Even better than that, you could avoid Chicago being shown up by Newark. Newark! Take a look at one of Mayor Booker's videos below. It's pretty great, but we can do better.

Thank you, Sir, and Happy Holidays.