Blog Action Day 2011 – Food
Last year Blog Action Day focused on water. This year the focus is food. Today is also World Food day. I’ve written about the joy of food and cooking, its importance to a culture, what we are actually eating, and the growing and pernicious worldwide hunger crisis that we are facing. I’d planned to make this post about food in books – the corned beef sandwich from Andrew Salkey’s Hurricane has always stuck with me, and even now on particularly rainy days I reach for food as comfort. But I decided not to…too many cannot even reach for food to sustain their daily needs. Food in books will be written about at another time. There are too many hungry people on this planet and it is a profound and burning injustice that we must face and make right. NINE MILLION SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND people in Somalia are dying of hunger. That crisis is spreading to Kenya, Ethiopia, and other neighbouring countries as Somalis flee their county in search of food. I have heard one too many news stories of mothers who have to choose which children to leave on the side of the road and which to carry on to a refugee camp, hopefully to receive basic nourishment. That breaks my heart. Are you hungry? O, and the (mighty?) United States is not immune either. Approximately ONE IN SEVEN Americans are “food insecure” (read: go hungry). Yes, even despite food stamp programs, soup kitchens, and food banks.
I can hear some saying: Why do people have so many children for whom they cannot provide? They shouldn’t be allowed to have children for which they cannot provide. I find that argument to be pernicious and unfeeling. I wonder too if it isn’t at least immoral and possibly amoral. Be sure to separate out the issue of education and policy about responsible sexual activity from the issue of reproductive rights. It is reproductive rights that are really at issue in this type of argument. Which segment of the population will be barred from having children? How will we decide? What will be the criteria? Because when the rich have children they too impact the supply and therefore the cost of food. The rich can afford to feed their children but they also have (or develop) different dietary needs and chief among them, for example, is a demand for more meat. This demand affects the price of food for everyone else. How? Because (and this is a rudimentary explanation) raising cattle requires grain and feed and the increased demand for grain and feed to raise cattle means either that there’s less for people who use them as a staple or the increased demand causes increased prices for staples, which means that those who use it for a staple have an affordability problem. And in either scenario, the prices of foods that are made from staples – e.g. corn meal or bread – also increases. Read more here about how changing diets – the wish for a more “western” diet – is affecting hunger. Go search for more, lots has been written. So, will instituting limits on “those people’s” reproductive rights to effect population control and address hunger issues solve the underlying systemic problems with food production, supply, and delivery? No, it won’t.
This hunger crisis is a man made thing and we compound the problem by calling it “food insecurity” and “food crisis.” Hunger has become a dirty word, rarely to be uttered like “genocide,” “imperialism,” “famine,” and “poverty.” Listen to me, people are HUNGRY. Too many of us are greedy. Too many of us waste even the little we do have. We can afford to feed the hungry people in this world…yet we do not. Yes, hunger is man made. It is the result of ineffective population planning, poor infrastructure, inequities and other problems with how we grow and produce food, indifference to human life, and far too high food prices. Go look up these things, especially the latter. Empower yourself with knowledge about the politics of food and hunger. Yes, the politics of food and hunger. By the way, it is an even graver injustice that we make fuel from food while so many people are hungry. This corn-based ethanol that so many governments and their people are in love with is a disgrace as far as I’m concerned. How can a surplus of corn be used to make ethanol when people are hungry? How can there be a surplus? Surplus implies that there is no demand for the food… uhm, there are 1 billion hungry people in the world. What surplus? We turn fuel into food and people are hungry.
Also, keep this in mind: waste not want not. It is a very simple phrase. Start thinking of leftovers differently, reuse them in a different dish. Freeze food when you make too much and have it later. Label leftovers so you know how long it’s been there and as a reminder to use it soon. Take stock of what you are doing in your home that wastes food…while keeping in mind the billion who go hungry. This is not meant to guilt trip you, it is meant to encourage proactive and (more) responsible use of food. In fact, it may simply be a reminder to do what your family did with food when you were growing up: nothing was wasted and your mother or grandmother (the likely cooks, let’s be honest) were creative about what they cooked. Why have you forgotten those lessons?
Food is not a privilege.
Wherever you are, find out about the hungry people in your country, in your community, in your social group, in your family, at your school. You don’t have to wait for a holiday season when the bounty of food on our tables somehow compels us to remember those who don’t have as much or any at all. When did having enough food to sustain life become a privilege? Hunger doesn’t go on vacation until November and December. People you know may be hungry but you may not know because it is likely that they bear their hunger with shame when, in fact, the shame is on us not them. The shame is on us who have not ensured that others in society have the the basics needed to survive. The basics. Find out how to put the issue of hunger on the agenda in your community and country. Ask questions and do what you can. Put pressure on politicians and hold them accountable (you elected them, remember), yes, but don’t forget that you can and should act too. Don’t depend on some central authority to do everything for you. Begin by volunteering…for me that has put into stark perspective this issue of hunger. Seeing so many hungry people come into the homeless shelter where I volunteer has affected me in ways I am not yet able to describe. If there’s no program in your community then start one. Start small: maybe you and a friend can set aside only so much money per week for buying or cooking food for people who need it. That is a start. It will be meaningful to someone and to you. Think and then do.
Food is fun, food is nourishing to the soul, food is memory, food is social…food is necessary for life. It is time for us to be serious about ending worldwide hunger.