I like to eat and eat well. I savor food; it is true it usually takes me longer to eat than those around me. Hey, Flavor is important. The experience of food is more than just an act of consumption. There is something about good food that is satisfying in more than just a physical dimension. Good food nourishes the soul. Good flavor fosters good feelings and good times. Access to good food is access to a reinforcement of our sense of security. Enjoying good food freely is a reminder of our innate right to health and happiness; it is the first step toward any sense of comfort.
Yet, over three billion souls worldwide live daily without direct access to good, wholesome food. Living in conditions where the logistics of delivery may be compromised by crumbling infrastructure or open warfare; or where paucity of agricultural production may be so under-recognized that help is not at the ready, many people dwell constantly under the shadow of doubt as to where their next meal will be coming from. Many children are growing up in this state of mind and body.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta on Friday, June 3, hosted the Starve Wars meal packing event at the International Congress Center in College Park. Session 1 was from 9:00 - 10:30 in the morning; session 2 was 11:00 - 12:30. The goal of the event was to get 650 good hearted folks together and pack 100,000 meals to help alleviate starving conditions in the country of Burkina Faso in Africa. DAP Tales and I, along with the strapping young Mr. Adrian came on in for Session 2 at 11:00. We're not necessarily morning people; you won't catch us milkin' no cows as the rooster crows nor collectin' the morning eggs. Those eggs would probably be hatched, if it was riding on us. Still, we wanted to do our part, so thanks to the Starve Wars planning commission for having the were-with-al to accommodate us late risers. Even with the later start time, though, we didn't quite make time beforehand to eat anything ourselves, so as time slid forward, it became something of a starve war on more than just one front. But we were there to do what we were there to do, so that, my friends, is just what we did.
We donned ID stickers (expected) and hair nets (necessary for food safety and quite dashing, at least on Mr. Adrian) and were shown to our work station. Upbeat music echoed through the cavernous conference hall, where dozens of rows of tables had been staged for the assembly line-like operation. I don't know how many people of the intended 650 were there but it seemed like it was probably pretty close. And everybody was already going at it, full tilt so we joined in. Working together in small groups at the tables, we put vitamin packs, soy flour, seasonings and rice in the packing bags, each bag being one ready to cook meal. Runners busily scooped up full trays of bags, delivering them to the weight-check tables where they would be weight-approved, then sealed for shipping. We kept the packs rolling. Runners appeared from nowhere, refilling our rice bins and other supplies, adeptly whisking away to other tables, keeping everyone stocked up and topped off. Counters processed the sealed bags for bulk packing in preparation for their long journey and tabulated the team's progress; each 1000 bags processed elicited a strike of a gong from the head of the room. The reverberations of the brass gong spread out shrilly over the sounds of Michael Jackson, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez, Kool and the Gang, Flo Rida. Runners were running around like crazy, weight checkers were raising their hands for more bags; hands were scooping rice and seasonings like nobody's business. And everybody was just smiling like it was Christmas. I had been a supervisor at a few production plants for a number of years; where had all these happy workers been hiding out all my professional life? Oh, Well...
We met Mark for the first time as a member of our work station crew; an extremely nice guy there with his family. His wife and daughter were at another table but his son, whom was no taller probably than my knee and soooo eager to help, was right there in the mix. I kid you not: Mark knew every church by name and address and every priest by name and SSN. He is an environmental scientist, which made for some good conversation for Dap Tales (she's all about the green, Green, Super Green). I took a look over at Mr. Adrian at his adjoining table; he and his crew were all into the work, man. Everyone was just pushing out the packs. My stomach was grumbling. The seasoning kept sending wafts of tantalizing aromas up my nose -- Starve Wars, man. Starve Wars.
The ringing call of the gong seemed to get more frequent as the pitch of progress became more intense, everyone driving their best towards getting 100,000 meals ready to be delivered to those needy people overseas. At this point, what with not having eaten and my head swimming with delicious seasoning smells, I was sympathetic; like, strongly sympathetic to my brothers and sisters across the pond. Let's get this food made, man; let's get this food made. Gongs were going off; an announcer was calling out tallies and offering motivational sentiments over the PA. Music had everybody bobbing and swaying and working. Supplies started running scarce. A runner came by to get some of our bags. A crew member from another table came through to bogart some of our rice. Things were gettin' tight. We needed some bags; someone gave us a handful from another table that was closing up shop. We weren't stopping for nothin'. Gong. Just a few more bags… Runners running back and forth; rice and stuff going back and forth… Seasoning aromas, back and forth… Gong. Suddenly the voice of the announcer called out "That's One Hundred Thousand! Thank you, everybody!", and a cheer went up from the crowd. Great! We did it! And I never saw so many smiling faces on an assembly line before.
As happy as we were to eat, (once we left the event) I honestly wasn't any happier than we had been to know someone else would now get that same chance, who might not have. We get to eat, to feel secure, to enjoy that calming of the hunger pang and other folks would too, now, because people wanted to make that happen. It doesn't take much; a little time, a little exercise; a few happy feelings among happy people on a Friday morning. The world gets happier and more fulfilled -- one bag of rice at a time.
Click here to find out more about Starve Wars and the Archdiocese's programs to combatworld hunger.
Victory Over Starve Wars:
Ranchero, Ranchero, Mucho Bueno!
So, if you've read the post on our adventure at the Archdiocese of Atlanta's Starve War event, you know how desperate we were to get something succulent into our stomachs once we had left the place. We had chipped in to help combat hunger halfway around the world, now it was time to combat hunger here at home, beginning with us! We called out a couple names of places we may have wanted to go but some were canceled out of consideration due to prohibitive traffic zones ("We need to eat now!") or whatever (hunger can make you forget stuff). For whatever reason, it seemed a taste for Mexican was glued to our collective palates, so we needed something close to home and south of the border. Once, in a similarly desperate situation late one evening we had ventured toward Ranchero Mexican Ristorante on Highway 138 in Stockbridge but the place had been way too packed and we would have ended up waiting, like, 45 minutes for a table, we were told. We bailed in favor of another option that night but today, with hunger cramping out innards and the promise of potentially a beat-the-rush type of lunch hour, we decided to give it a go again. This was not a mistake.
The Ristorante is tucked into the end of a small strip plaza on Hwy 138, just south of its junction at I-75. The ambiance and the people are cool and inviting. The tables and booths are adorned base-to-top in decorative artwork demonstrating the agave harvest which I can only presume must be a traditional theme in Mexico. Hand-painted bas-relief mixes with full coverage wall paintings to produce a storybook sort of illustrated atmosphere. A TV mounted overhead displays a soccer match with the volume down low. The table is soon laden with the traditional salsa and house tortilla chips.
We ordered a spinach and queso appetizer, some steak burritos, soft drinks to wash it all down. I'm not sure what source they are using to purchase their drinking cups, but if you ever need to eat in a place where you can have a whole gallon of tea in front of you, this is your place. This is only a mild exaggeration. Man, those cups were huge.
When the grub showed up, we were ready. The burritos were piping hot and laden with cooling guacomole, sour cream and pico de gallo. The steak nestled tantalizingly inside the tortillas was succulent, juicy and well seasoned. We ate, we drank, we were merry. Maybe we were just extremely hungry, but I doubt it. If you're ever in the Stockbridge neck of the woods and you feel the need for a down home, low-key, tasty, neighborhood ristorante style lunch or dinner, give Ranchero a try. Your stomach may thank you.