When is the last time you remember being hungry – and I mean really hungry – with nothing or very little to eat? I can recall often being hungry when I was young back home in Attawapiskat. We had a large family, food was costly because it had to be shipped up to our remote community and there was not much work in the community. Thankfully, most of the parents and older people back then were still very active on the land and we survived the lean periods with traditional meals of Niska (Canada goose), Nah-mes (fish), Atik (caribou, moose), as well as other animals and birds.
I remember watching televised images of modern families in big, comfy homes eating large meals. I realized that there was another world out there where people seemed to have everything. In my world none of our houses had running water. We had to use outhouses all year round and that was very difficult when it was -40º in the middle of winter.
Of course, we had what was known as a honey bucket for the older folk and little ones so that they would not have to venture out to the outhouse in bad weather. We had to fetch our water from the river in buckets, which we would boil mostly for tea. Amazingly, all of this was happening in the 1990s while everyone else in Canada had been enjoying modern conveniences for many decades.
When I first ventured to cities in the south – like Timmins, North Bay, Ottawa and Toronto – I was amazed at how well everyone lived. The south seemed luxurious. I was amazed that I could easily purchase a lot of food at cheap prices and I could have a meal at a restaurant whenever I felt hungry. It was like a trip to heaven.
In my early 20s I moved south and stayed in towns and cities where soon I took for granted all of those things I once missed so much. For most of my teen years I had always been skinny and as I was very active and there wasn’t that much food around anyway. Suddenly I was gaining weight. I noticed that many people in the southern towns and cities were overweight and I soon learned that many were suffering from diabetes and heart conditions largely due to inactive lifestyles and poor diets. For the first time in my life I found myself having to cut back on my eating. I had long dreamed of being in the land of plenty. Now that I had arrived I found that things were not so easy.
We have so much here in Canada. We have good, clean water to drink and most of us have access to as much food as we want to eat. However, there are still children who wake up hungry in this country and head off to school on an empty stomach. There are families that must struggle to keep themselves fed. In many First Nations across the country safe, high-quality drinking water is still not a reality and store-bought food is extremely expensive. Still, in Canada we are generally better off than most other countries in the world.
When I traveled through Asia recently I saw so much poverty. Many times I noticed that people did not have access to clean drinking water. I watched as children hauled large containers of water from dirty-looking rivers and lakes. Many times I came across families bathing in rivers, lakes and even the ocean, as they had no running water at home. I came across many people, young and old, begging for food. All of this made me so sad that I just wanted to fly away from it all and return to Canada. However, I did my very best to try to adapt to much of the misery I witnessed and happily I was rewarded in meeting many people from different cultures who made me feel comfortable most of the time with their kindness.
I lost a few pounds on my travels through Asia and once in a while I actually was hungry. For the first time in years there were days when I was hiking in areas where I just could not get a tasty meal and my stomach growled with hunger. This was a feeling that I had not had for many years and it reminded me of just how lucky I am to live in a country where people are not starving to death or becoming fatally sick because of contaminated drinking water. We owe it to everyone else on this planet to work towards a day when they can have the same luxury of enough food to eat and clean water to drink.