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21 Days for World Hunger – Days 13 & 14: The Hungry Haves and Have-Nots of Southeast Asia

21 Days for World Hunger – Days 13 & 14: The Hungry Haves and Have-Nots of Southeast Asia

Today, Day 14 of 21 Days for World Hunger puts me at 66.6666666% of the way through this Souljourn. And counting. For the past two days, dinner was earlier and lighter. Add to it, I decreased the amount of my warm hemp milk nightcap, because it prompted nighttime bathroom trips. oy. However, both nights, I awoke around 4:00 AM with a grumbling stomach, hunger. Sleeping while hungry is no easy feat. It’s quite hard, actually. And then mornings, well, they’re kind of a big bummer, because I know there is a several-hour wait before I eat my banana. Despite how slowly I chew my two Brazil nuts, my brain demands more. Surprisingly, my energy level is quite sufficient.


In this post, I take a peek into Asia, mostly Southeast Asia, which has had its share of hardships from political unrest to corrupt governments to natural disasters.  Poverty.  Hunger.

Noam Chomsky on World Hunger
I think Noam is cool, so here’s a video with a snippet of his thoughts on world hunger.

Globalization According to Noam Chomsky

While researching and listening to Noam Chomsky, I heard him say eat hummus. I was all, huh?  Why is Noam Chomsky telling me to eat hummus and what does that have to do with globalization?  I replayed the video and realized he said e-commerce.  I think I need hummus.

There are various forms of international integration and one specific modality is globalization, meaning countries have to open up their borders for free imports.  They have to accept imports from highly subsidized U.S., European and Canadian agribusiness; which essentially wipes out domestic production for those countries. Check out Noam Chomsky’s video to learn a lot more or this video to learn a little more.

The Hunger Stats of Asia

Asia525.6 million living in hunger. 
Asia is the continent with the most hungry people – two-thirds of the population are malnourished, six out of ten live in South Asia and eight out of ten are malnourished children living in those areas according to the Borgen Project.

According to the IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute), today, around 600 million people in Asia subsist on less than $1 a day and many live well below that: 240 million in the region live on less than 75 cents a day. The most unfortunate consequence of widespread poverty is that more than 520 million people cannot afford an adequate diet.


South Asia is the region in Asia with the greatest hunger problems. In South Asia, the overall prevalence of food-energy deficiency in the four study countries (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) is quite close, ranging from 51 percent in Pakistan to 61 percent in Bangladesh. Given that all of these countries had aggregate food surpluses at the time of their surveys, these high incidences are mainly due to the households’ inability to access available food. However, the prevalence of ultra hunger (severe food-energy deficiency) was the highest in Timor-Leste and Sri Lanka, where conflict has probably exacerbated the hunger situation.

Learn more here.

The Global Hunger Index

IFPRI offers a useful interactive map for The Global Hunger Index (GHI).

If the map looks like it’s in German, click on it to revert back to English. Drag the marker to any country and click to see the severity of hunger in that country. Click again and see the comparison of present day data to that from 2005. It’s encouraging to see decreasing numbers, but those numbers still represent nearly one billion people. That’s too many hungry people.

The IFPRI identified the eight countries that still suffer from levels of hunger that are considered alarming. Most are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Three exceptions are Afghanistan, Haiti, and Timor-Leste.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also has an interactive hunger map where you can click on the country, and the FAO provides population and hunger statistics of that country. Check it out.



Timor-Leste, formerly East Timor, shares the island of Timor with West Timor, which is part of the cluster of Indonesian islands just 300 miles north of Australia.  Timor-Leste is ranked 40.7 (alarming) on the GHI4th highest hunger level on this scale.

Despite its wealth of natural resources, Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world with approximately 26.9 percent of its population suffering from hunger and 18.9% of its children are severely malnourished (wasting).  Fifty percent of the population subsist on .88/day according to the World Food Programme.

Additional information from the World Food Programme states the traditional staple foods are maize and cassava, but rice is replacing these as the preferred food. Major imported food items include rice, oil and noodles. The main risk of food shortages occurs during the October to March lean season, when food stocks run short and the new harvest is not yet available. Owing to inadequate road infrastructure, underdeveloped marketing systems, a lack of agricultural inputs and irrigation facilities, and considerable post-harvest losses, local food production is insufficient to meet national requirements.

In John Pilger’s film Death of a Nation – East Timor, Pilger reveals how many Western governments provided military and financial support to Suharto’s regime in murdering the people of East Timor in a criminal effort to prevent them from establishing an independent state with a leftist government. The human rights violations – genocide – of the island people of East Timor go beyond reprehensible. Indescribably so. Watching this video is unsettling.  While Death of a Nation – East Timor is long, I found it well done – painful but well done. It’s important to understand the how and why of extreme poverty and severe hunger in Timor-Leste.


Indonesia is ranked 22.1 (serious) on the IFPRI Global Hunger Index.

According to the World Food Programme, with a quarter of a billion people, and encompassing great geographic and human diversity, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most-populous nation and south-east Asia’s largest economy.

Indonesia has halved the percentage of its population living in poverty to 11.1% or 28.5 million people. Despite the great strides made from 2009 to 2015, malnutrition and childhood stunting remain widespread. Staple crops include rice (main crop), maize, groundnut, soybean, cassava and sweet potato.

Haves and Have-Nots of Asia: Firsthand Accounts

A new friend, Maggie, shares her thoughts on Food Justice and life in Indonesia

Two thumbs up for your Food Justice definition.

I grew up in Indonesia where there are still a lot of people who live in hunger. It is so funny we are here in the USA and we have problems with being overweight. We eat more than we should. We throw away so much food when the other part of the world is starving.

The first time I came to this country, I was so amazed how big the portions of the food were. Seriously, one pound of steak is normal for people here to consume in one meal, over there you feed the whole family and only on very special occasions.

My parents were not happy if I did not finish my meal when I was a kid. They always said the farmers were crying. They had been working so hard for months under the sun so we had the food. We were always eating with spotless plates. We felt lucky we could have food. Here in the USA, I met another woman from Indonesia who told me her experience when she was in college back in Indonesia. That she only could afford to eat twice a week. She said it was common for college students since they were so poor. I am talking about the country that not everyone can attend college. You need to be either rich or really smart to go to college. I believe only around 5% of the population goes to college there. She was under scholarship but the fund was not enough to get her normal meals.

I never watched the documentary True Cost but I know about the giant company exploitations of workers in third world countries. It happens in Indonesia as well. Companies like Nike, Reebok, Abercrombie and Fitch, Polo, Levis and other hundreds make their products in Indonesia. They underpay the workers but pay very well the athletes, celebrities and stars. The sad thing is a lot of the workers are children since the parents are so poor, they send their kids to work.

The images you have are what I saw on a daily basis.

I grew up in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The city just like the rest of them is a big metropolitan city. The sad thing is you can see that the gap between the rich and poor is so big there. Just like you see in the picture, a lot of tall and modern buildings but surrounding the area people live so poorly.

Urban Poor
Urban Poor



And the houses you see at these pictures do not look that bad. In reality, a lot of people just build their house like a tent using cardboard. They live with their whole family there. Their favorite place to live is around the canals, we have a lot of canals that pass through the city. Also of course, people build their cardboard houses around the railroads, below the bridges, near the graves, or they simply build their house in front of your house.

Southeast Asian Laborers

A dear friend who resides in both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Thailand shares her thoughts on laborers from Asia:

Many of the laborers in Dubai come from Asia. 

It seems so ironic when countries like the UAE and the U.S. are battling obesity that we can’t get the food distribution right. In this part of the world, the disparity is in your face daily. Even when the economy was worse than now, there were still loads of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc that basically build the infrastructure of Dubai.  They live in labour camps and on very little money – eating rice, bread, and lentils – with little fresh fruit or vegetables. 

I did find out that the average labourer in Dubai makes about 450 dirhams a month plus 150 dirhams for food.  Since the exchange rate is 3.7 dirhams to the dollar, that means that they make about (rounding) $125 a month in salary and about $35 a month for food – $1 a day give or take.  Dubai has become much better with regard to workers and their employers. Workers are given accommodation, but despite the improved labor relations, it’s still brutal. At least now there are stricter rules in the labor camps and workers are paid on time whereas in the past some didn’t get paid.

The workers in our house in Dubai are from Sri Lanka and the cost of food among many other things, has risen so fast in their country (partly as a result of the recent civil war there) that their families, who subsist primarily from the wages they earn here, also find it so difficult to eat balanced meals. Nothing ever goes to waste in this house, that’s for sure, but I am conscious that what we put on our table for one meal could surely feed entire families for a lot more than one meal.

I struggle with it – the haves and the have-nots. The same is true in Thailand where workers there pick stuff growing in our front yard, chop it up and eat it with rice for a meal.  In Thailand, they basically eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner – rice with maybe some canned fish and something green that they can pick from the side of the road (probably after the dogs pee on it) or out of someone’s yard.  They are sugar freaks, but it is easy to see why. They can load up their food with sugar (and MSG) and get more bang for the buck.

As for the Thai workers – without doing any real checking – I would imagine that the laborers (construction etc.) probably make about 200 baht a day – which is about five bucks. On Samui, the Burmese workers who run across the border will work for less than that.  Just like Dubai, employers usually provide some space for “living” – i.e., sleeping which isn’t much more than a space on the floor.  There is usually some electricity somewhere where they can plug in their rice cooker. Suffice to say there is so much NEED in other parts of the world!  Anyway, you can see your journey has touched me in many ways, and I fully support you.

Portion Sizes

Another friend shared her insights while visiting the US from abroad. 

I can imagine how tired and frazzled you must be. From my small corner of the world, you have impacted me with every bite. Yesterday we had sandwiches for lunch at a local place – the size of them was stupid. We easily could have split one and been full. The portion sizes in this country continue to astound, and I’m sure even with one half a sandwich it was more calories than you are consuming in a day. And that was just for lunch. Mind you, we enjoyed breakfast and dinner as well – sigh – such a disparity.

My Food Justice Diet Experience


With a new focus on Asia, I went to the grocery store and stocked up on (mostly organic) ingredients for upcoming recipes (Cost about $50.00):

  • Basmati Rice (white)
  • Tempeh
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sesame oil (this serves a dual purpose as my new doctor suggests I use it on my back for pain relief and on my skin for dry relief – hello thyroid issues!)
  • Red Potatoes
  • Rice vinegar
  • Coconut milk
  • Red onions
  • Garlic
  • Green onions (still have some in my garden)
  • Orange & red bell peppers
  • Red curry paste
  • Broccoli

Day 13 Food Intake
My diet is leaning a wee bit too much on the fat and a wee bit too low on the protein. I have an acute awareness of not caring a whole lot right now. I’m so grateful to eat the gorgeous, organic whole foods that any food is great food. Today I spread out my little bits to span the length of my work day to have enough energy.

= 32%
= 60%
= 8%


Day 14 Food Intake
= 27%
= 66%
= 7%


Recipe: Potato and Coconut Milk Vegan Yum Yumminess


2-3 tbsp coconut oil
1 sweet potato  (bake for 30 minutes in advance)
2 red potatoes (bake for 30 minutes in advance)
2 cups of bok choy
2 cups spinach
1 medium red onion chopped
1 tbsp diced ginger
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chili powder (if you want it extra hot)
4 garlic cloves
10 dried chili peppers
salt to taste
1 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup coconut milk

In a large frying pan, heat coconut oil on medium high
Add onion, turmeric, chili peppers, pepper, garlic, and ginger
Fry for 5-10 minutes until potatoes are browned
Add coconut milk – cook down until it thickens
Steam in spinach and bok choy


I couldn’t even eat my entire portion plus I forgot all about the basmati rice, which I suppose now is optional. The husband concurred, this dish does not need rice. It was super yum and spicy and very filling.

One more week to go. We can do this.


Why do we have to pay the price of poverty?  We didn’t create poverty, adults did.
Sultana, a twelve-year garment factory worker from Bangladesh

Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of the people remain in poverty 
while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance.
John F. Kennedy

Why is it that a child’s death amounts to a tragedy, but the death of millions is merely a statistic
~Patrick McDonald, Founder, Viva Network


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



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