On the Persistence of Hunger

Reflections from a Retired Park Ranger

To consider the United States a wealthy and free nation, possessed of boundless ideals, one must ignore the obvious in no small measure. Even now, in the age of advancing technology, hunger quietly prevails. In urban and rural spaces, chilled by shadows of entitlement, the timeless problem of food remains with us. Who is unable to see this? Thanks to the rise of social media, and the drone of constant chatter, we are more aware than previous generations. However, endless streams of “content” leave us vulnerable to indifference, the presence of which invites hunger on many levels. The coming years will likely reveal this fact in dramatic fashion.

For two decades, I worked as a municipal park ranger in San Diego, California, patrolling urban spaces with an eye towards habitat restoration. Enforcement was also a part of this responsibility, ensuring that no one encroached on public land. Generally, the task involved having tons of litter removed by reluctant administrators—no one wishing to assume responsibility—and convincing people to move their encampments from one canyon to another. Social services being limited and quite unappealing, this option was the most feasible. In fact, many people described the dangers and squalor of downtown “shelters” in alarming detail, making the solution seem more perilous than the problem. Needless to say, I saw the situation of urban poverty grow worse, carrying on throughout the years of my career. Indeed, it remains overwhelming to this day, as solutions elude politicians and municipal administrators. And what about society as a whole, we, the people? Perhaps we are not so much indifferent and uncaring as, quite simply, numb with the sorrow of it all, befuddled by media deception and torrents of useless information. With this in mind, we consider the future.

With climate change threatening swathes of once productive farmland, and drinkable water becoming more scarce, the need for solutions is pressing, confronting us with an urgency once unimaginable. Are worldwide famines and thirst looming on the horizon, belittling our notions of progress and mocking our faith in technology? What seemed unthinkable to our nation in the previous century—endowed, as it was, with rich farmland, a strong currency (formerly backed by gold) and a wealth of factories—appears to be likely for the current generation.

Upon concluding my career, and recalling so many faces of poverty, I’ve reflected more than a little on the days to come. Thanks to the people I met while on patrol, exploring miles of urban shadowlands, I realize the degree to which we share an uncertain future and cannot afford indifference, the luxury of a careless and nearly forgotten past.

A.M. Palmer is a writer who lives in the United States and works in civil service. Read other articles by A.M..