795 million people in the world go hungry every day as reported by the UN’s World Food Programme. That’s 11% of the world’s population – people – living with hunger.
Good News on the Hunger Horizon?
In 2010, there were over 1 billion people in the world who went hungry every day. At the time, those numbers represented nearly 15% of the world’s population. But before we throw a ticker tape parade and waste a ton of paper, consider this: The number 795,000,000 represents a decreasing hungry population, yes, that’s a good thing, but there are still 795 million –almost one billion– hungry people in the world. Too many zeros.
According to Merriam-Webster, hunger is defined as:
- a very great need for food : a severe lack of food
- an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that is caused by the need for food
- a strong desire : a strong desire for something or to do something
Hunger Notes claims both malnutrition and undernutrition refer to the effects on people of not having enough food.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) provides the following definitions to help better explain the language of hunger.
An abnormal physiological condition caused by inadequate, unbalanced or excessive consumption of macronutrients and/or micronutrients. Malnutrition includes undernutrition and overnutrition as well as micronutrient deficiencies.
A state, lasting for at least one year, of inability to acquire enough food, defined as a level of food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements. For the purposes of this report, hunger was defined as being synonymous with chronic undernourishment.
The outcome of undernourishment, and/or poor absorption and/or poor biological use of nutrients consumed as a result of repeated infectious disease. It includes being underweight for one’s age, too short for one’s age (stunted), dangerously thin for one’s height (wasted) and deficient in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient malnutrition).
21 Days for World Hunger
For the next 21 days I will research hunger and sustainable agriculture, learn about the solutions to alleviating hunger, and share information from various experts and organizations that are working to help those living with hunger. It seemed appropriate for me to begin this journey in September, which is also Hunger Action Month, and then end it on October 16, World Food Day.
In 2010, I wrote extensively about world hunger for Conducive Chronicle, a growing online news source that ceased publication after being maliciously hacked. Twice that year, I took a similar 21 Days for World Hunger journey. I called it a souljourn, a journey of the soul. Similar to the experiences of 2010, for this World Hunger Souljourn, I will do the following:
- Discuss malnutrition, undernutrition, undernourishment and stats on world hunger, along with the plights and solutions in specific regions of the world with a focus on Africa.
- Share some tidbits on specific diets of those living in the poorest regions of the world.
- Reprint portions of articles from 2010 that are still relevant and valuable today.
- Share recipes of authentic cuisine in the representative geographic areas of focus.
- Eat –to the best of my knowledge and ability– a near-equivalent caloric value and similar staple foods like those who are living with hunger.
- Share my personal experience and daily food intake.
I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to be starving or malnourished, because in this controlled experiment, if my resolve breaks, I can back out anytime — I, unlike them, have a stocked pantry. It will all come down to my willpower versus my desire to advocate for those less fortunate.
I’m having some anxiety about this experience. The last time I did this, it was intense. There were difficult moments. Spending 50 hours a week reading, writing, cooking, while not feeling complete in the energy department was a difficult test of my tenacity. It was hard. So hard that my husband, who volunteered to join me for the first World Hunger Souljourn, gave up after four days because he simply couldn’t muster the focus to do work.
Now when I think about my busy life and trying to keep up the daily blogging along with my work, household chores, studies, and family R&R, I am riddled with trepidation. I know. First world issue. I am choosing to do this. It’s not being imposed upon my person. I’ve decided, in a show of self-care, every 5-6 days I’m giving myself a wellness day. It’ll be a day off from the intensity of blogging. I may throw in a few hunger haikus on those days or maybe nothing at all, and I will maintain the reduced calorie diet.
Despite my trepidation about this project knowing how difficult it was the first time around, I’m aware that I’ll likely never have the experience of knowing – really knowing – the real pain of real hunger. For this, I am grateful.
As a person who thrives on plant-fueled nutrition, this may not be as far of a stretch as it may be for someone who is accustomed to eating meat, because the staple foods of those living with hunger are beans, legumes, and local vegetables. This is stuff I eat daily. It’s not the food I’m nervous about. It’s carrying the day-to-day intensity on a gravely reduced caloric intake.
Daily Caloric Intake of People Living with Hunger
World Food Programme recommends 2100 calories/day, but this is not what a person living with hunger consumes. I’ve been told by leaders of various NGO’s over the years that someone living with hunger consumes a caloric intake ranging from 500-900 calories a day and usually one meal in the evening. Have you ever gone to bed hungry? A rumbling stomach lends itself to a disturbing night of sleeplessness, which further sap’s one’s energy in a vicious cycle.
Today I will consume normal amounts of food as a way of forming a benchmark. Tomorrow I plan to halve my normal caloric intake, which is roughly 2200 calories a day, so for the remaining 20 days, I’ll be consuming about 1000-1200 calories a day. In 2010, I averaged about 900 calories a day and lost too much weight too quickly. This is not something I prescribe for anyone, dieting or otherwise. On workdays, I’ll consume on the higher end of that caloric scale, supplementing my one meal a day with a late morning fruit or grain snack – focusing on whole foods.
Our Collective Community
One clarification I’d like to manifest during this souljourn is the connection between a 1st world lifestyle and the impact on hunger worldwide. Is there a correlation? I believe so. Humans are part of a whole – a beautifully connected whole. We’re one far-reaching human community.
Evidence of a so-called human family may not be obvious on a day-to-day basis, but I’ve seen that connectedness and caring shine through during times of crisis.
Picture a subway car filled to the brim with people. It’s the end of the day. Most folks after a grueling day of work want very little to do with other strangers. The droning of metal wheels against metal rails as the car rolls along a seemingly endless black tunnel, an unnatural yellow light glosses over torn fabric and tagged adverts; this is a daily ritual the majority of adults take from Monday to Friday. Noses to books, phones to mouths, headphones to ears, these are all universal signals for “leave me alone.” It’s a scene of fragmentation and disconnection, understandably so.
However, were there to be a crisis on that car, no doubt anyone who could help would help. This is because humans have an infinite capacity to care and a natural, involuntary instinct to lend a hand, to help a fellow human in need. It astounds me to witness examples of this, whether it’s a World Trade Tower crashing to the ground or an earthquake bringing an ancient Italian village to its knees. In crisis, all hands are on deck with the common purpose of survival. It’s stunning to see how everyday people become heroes without ever being called to the task. They just take action, because another human, regardless of age, color, political stance, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender is in a calamitous situation and urgent need. It’s a thing of beauty. This is brilliance.
I’m here to tell you we have a crisis and that it’s time to pull the earbuds and the cell phones and whatever other distractions that keep us distanced from our fellow humans, and to become that one community, all hands on deck, with the common purpose of helping our fellow humans. And while this crisis is neither dramatically reinforced on continuous replay through our television sets nor broadly publicized in the headlines of major newspapers, it is still very real and very dire. In this crisis we don’t hear the shouts of a dozen people forming a powerful human chain with the sole intention of rescuing men trapped in the dark, ashen, depths of a coalmine. No, this crisis is more silent than that. In this crisis we don’t see the dramatic impact of a region overtaken by the waves of a furious tsunami. But there is a flood, and it is that of the tears of a mother whose child has withered and died from lack of food. In this crisis, the rubble is not made of cement blocks and steel beams, it is of human flesh. The crisis is world hunger, and it spans continents afflicting nearly one billion people who are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers. Their agonizing cries are not heard as the rest of the world carries on, unaware that we have the power to bring justice to a most unjust situation: there are nearly one billion people in this shared human race who are denied their very real right to sustenance. I reckon these folks have a different interpretation of the human race than the rest of us. I wonder if they see it as a race against a life of misery and not part of a unified species.
The crisis of world hunger could be solved if we all came together and experienced one another as brothers and sisters with hearts and souls and love. When we function as a global community, we give ourselves the opportunity to have empathy for this painfully serious problem. When we, as a human unit – not Americans, not Asians, not Latinos, not Africans, but we as humans, hold a collective consciousness and realize our behaviors impact and are impacted by one other and we have the power to actually do something to improve the situation for all, a peaceful existence becomes a real possibility. By the completion of these 21 days, I’ll be suggesting actionable items that anyone can take to participate in the goal of alleviating world hunger.
I define food justice as each person’s right to clean water and food that is nutritious and sustainable to the person, her family, her community, and the environment. When there is food justice, farmers are supported to grow organic food for their families and their communities. Farmers are not indebted to food companies, chemical companies, or their government, because they are part of a functional, collective whole that believes prosperous families create healthy societies. Food justice perpetuates a peaceful, fulfilling, content, and collective existence among all peoples. Food justice comprises human rights and animal rights, taking into consideration that no living being deserves to be exploited and used for another’s gain. All have a right to life. Food justice leads to a thriving, better-educated population, a stronger workforce, absolute self-sufficiency, flourishing interdependence, deeper compassion, and healthy minds. When there is food justice, people in developed countries have awareness that their choices impact less fortunate people across the globe, and their actions demonstrate this awareness in a forward-thinking way.
For example, rainforests and hamburgers: a person in the US purchases a hamburger for $1.99, which seems like a good deal. But the true cost of that hamburger includes the energy used for the transportation that shipped the beef from Brazil, the indigenous peoples who lost their villages because of trees that were cut down to create space for a cattle ranch, and the increasingly heating climate because those trees are no longer there to absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide.
The Food Justice Diet
In 2010, a number of people joined me in the World Hunger Diet. I felt uncomfortable with that term, World Hunger Diet. It felt exploitative and uncomfortable. But the idea grew on me. It was, after all, a diet for world hunger.
In our society the word “diet” is standard lingo to mean reducing food consumption, changing caloric intake or eliminating carbs , etc. It appears to be most often uses as a verb. I am dieting.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, diet is defined as the following:
noun di·et \ˈdī-ət\
a : food and drink: regularly provided or consumed
b : habitual nourishment
c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight >
e: to eat less food or to eat only particular kinds of food in order to lose weight : to be on a diet
You can see the first two definitions show a regular or habitual consumption of sorts. It’s not until we get to the fourth definition (d) that it becomes specifically about reduction, and the last (e), a verb shows an act of eating less or of eating a particular kind of food. Folks diet, to lose weight, for a variety of reasons: they don’t like having extra weight, they don’t like how they feel, they don’t like how they look, they are told by a doctor to do so, they have an important event and need to fit into clothes, society imposes unreasonable demands and judgments, etc.
I wonder about the level of frustration starving people would have if they knew how many women – and of course, men too, obsess over their weight to the point of denying themselves the very essence of survival –food. I wonder how utterly ridiculous they find that notion. It must be perplexing.
During this 21-day experience, I will be changing my diet (as in the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason, see definition “c”) and as part of this experience and by default, I will no doubt lose weight (definition “d”) even if this isn’t my intention. I will be eating a particular kind of food (e). I’m forming a new definition for diet, a particular kind of dieting: a humanidietarian is one who exchanges calories for care and consciousness in an effort to reduce the prevalence of world hunger.
Weight is not one of my (many) issues, so the idea of losing weight doesn’t consume my psyche. That said, as I stumble to the finish line of my 40’s gracelessly and fiercely clutching, double-fisted, to the final tattered remnants that were once the fabric of my youth, it is monumentally clear to me that my metabolism is slowing down. It’s like there’s something caught in the spoke of my energy wheel that was once spinning freely and is now thumping along with a hint of a newfound sluggishness. I want to blame it all on thyroid issues. And maybe I can legitimately do that one day, but for now, to those blasted, extra five butt-pounds, I point a finger at indulgences that don’t burn off as rapidly as before. I still think I can eat anything I want, and those thoughts lead to translatable actions. Being vegan most certainly helps. I also happen to prefer whole foods over processed foods. Still, I indulge in “treats” and vegan junk food is still junk – empty calories that add nothing to my life but love handles.
So why am I taking this souljourn? Just to be clear, it is not to lose the weight. It is to gain an understanding and an appreciation for those less fortunate. I’m taking this souljourn as an activist in solidarity for those who are subjected to a life of hunger.
What I’m proposing is something bold: altruistic dieting or dieting for humanity, making all practitioners of this exercise, humanidietarians. Calories for care. I’m calling it The Food Justice Diet, and I will present arguments to my belief that by changing to a plant-fueled form of eating, humans, along with vastly improving global health, could also save the world. A simple change with an enormous impact.
Preparing for The Food Justice Diet
Change. It’s hard. Life can be busy and complex. Our habits become a mechanism for coping. I spent nearly two decades working with organizations and individuals on adapting to change or who were creating change to innovate solutions to common problems. In all my years of experience and with each organization or person I collaborated, change was a struggle. Engaging in new behaviors, even if they’re better for us, is harder than relinquishing the familiar. I keep a favorite quote above my desk as a reminder that change, despite being unpredictable, can lead to something different and sometimes different is very good.
And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful
than the risk it took to blossom.
I’ve been mentally preparing for this food justice souljourn for more than a month, and my plan is fairly solid with some wiggle room. In order to set up for success, I urge anyone making a major life change to do the same: take some time and make a plan. My stretch goal is to turn this 21-day souljourn into a book. It’s a lofty goal and who knows if I can pull it off. I’ll try like hell. Then, I will expound on my personal methodology for creating life changes. Onward!
My journey will begin with a focus on the plight of hunger in Africa. I identified a handful of recipes and two days ago I shopped for groceries. Some of the ingredients, especially spices, are already in my cupboard and some vegetables I’ll harvest from the garden. Today I am eating like I would on any given day and tomorrow I’ll halve my normal intake with a smoothie in the late morning and a simple salad in the evening. On Day 3, I will begin with meals from Africa. If anyone wants to join me on this souljourn, below are the groceries you’ll need:
- Peanuts (1 lb)
- Ginger root
- Sweet basil (this will be taken from my garden)
- Eggplant (the garden)
- Lettuce (the garden)
- Tomatoes (the garden)
- Peppers (the garden)
- Garlic (1 large clove)
- Avocados (2 large)
- Onions (2 large, red)
- Spring onions (the garden)
- Yams (2 large)
- Potatoes (4 medium)
- Lentils (24 oz)
- Red Beans (3 cups)
- Spinach (1 large container)
- Beets (3 med)
- Barley (24 oz)
- Brown Rice (16 oz)
- Kale (1 bunch)
- Chickpeas (30 oz)
- Bananas (1 bunch)
- Lime (1)
- Avocado oil
Almost all foods I buy are organic. I’ll be talking more about the importance of organic food and how it relates to world hunger in future posts. I’m preparing food for only two people, so the amount of food listed above will likely be more than what I need for one week. I expect to have a surplus for future meals! Total spent: $44.00
Day 1: My Daily Intake/Beginning weight 117.5 pounds
Yes, I’ll admit it. I polished off a chocolate bar. The emotional part of my brain battled my frontal cortex about whether or not it was a good idea to have a temptation loitering in the fridge. I decided it was better to eliminate the perpetrator.
Burden not yourself with the suffering of others.
Acknowledge not the presence of anguish in the world.
Ask not the truth.
Fear not the consequences of inaction.
Believe not in the worth of each hungry soul.
Give not of yourself for the common good.
Exist not in the presence of peace.
To read other posts in this series, click click click the links. Please share your comments!
Day 1: The Food Justice Diet
Day 2: Alarming and Curious Statistics
Day 3: Finish Your Plate, There are Children Starving in Ethiopia
Day 4: The Nameless Hungry
Days 5-6: “Where Does She Get Her Protein??”
Day 7: One Small NGO Making a Big Impact in Ethiopia
Day 8: The Language of Hunger
Day 9: Plenty of Soy Solutions in Latin America
Days 10-11: Can Small-scale farming feed the world?
Day 12: Why Organic Farming?
Days 13-14: The Have and Have-Nots of Southeast Asia
Day 15: Have You Eaten Today?
Day 16: Hunger in America
Days 17 & 18: Hunger’s Dirty Little Secret
Day 19: Eat Plants
Day 20: Watch This, Read That
Day 21: The Power of Activism