For the next seven days I will be going hungry in honor of world hunger and the 1.2 billion women, men, and children who are chronically undernourished. Inspired by Kenda Swartz Pepper’s recent experience I will explore, examine, and bring attention to the topic of world hunger by going on a Souljourn.
Souljourn – A mental journey undertaken with great care and consideration to learn and grow as a person and ultimately become a better denizen of Earth. A time to reflect, reevaluate, and make changes or sacrifices to live our lives to the fullest, and reaffirm our commitment to making the world a more peaceful and equitable home for all.
As I research the myriad causes and potential solutions to the devastating phenomenon of chronic hunger, I will eat the staple foods of the regions hardest hit by food insecurity and concentrate my daily allotment of less than 1,000 calories into one evening meal to adhere to the typical habits of those afflicted with hunger.
Hunger. I know what the word means, but when I think back over my life I’m not sure I’ve ever really experienced it. Of course, there have been times when my stomach was growling and I couldn’t wait for my next meal, but honest, real, long term hunger? Not once. I’ve never even gone on a diet. The concept of going without food makes me nervous, scared even. In the food blogging world I’m know as The Voracious Vegan and I’m used to thinking about food, writing about food, and eating food all day long. On my website I share my delicious vegan recipes with the world while promoting a joyful, guilt-free approach to enjoying food. I also run a small vegan bakery, Voracious, where I craft cupcakes, pies, and cookies for the routine celebrations of life. To me food has been a lot of things, joy, comfort, and nourishment, but never something to worry about. Its presence was never questioned; it was something assumed, a fact of life that would always be there.
For the next seven days, as I mimic the diet of the world’s hungry, I expect to experience hunger and discomfort, but I am not kidding myself. Nothing I do or feel could ever come close to what those who are truly suffering from hunger go through. At any time I can put a stop to this journey, walk into my kitchen, and eat. So, while I am nervous about what I will feel, this experience is created by me, and ultimately I am in control. I have a choice. I can say no and stop it at any time. For that reason alone this Souljourn can never be more than a mere shadow, a vague hypothesis, of what true, chronic, no end in sight hunger actually feels like.
World hunger has been something that I knew about in only the most esoteric ways, an article or two here, a book or documentary there. The magnitude of the problem has always paralyzed me, the causes and solutions so complex and multi-layered I didn’t even know where to begin. The numbers alone are almost too large for my mind to comprehend. There are 1.2 billion people living with hunger right now. That means 1 out of every 6 human beings alive does not have enough food to eat. 16 percent of all humans do not have adequate food to keep themselves healthy, to meet their basic biological needs for life. This lack of food results in the death of millions of people every year, simply because they have no food.
This chronic hunger is not caused by famine or lack of food; in fact we grow more than enough food to sustain everyone. According to Food First, our planet produces enough for each person on earth to have 4.3 pounds of food every day; 2.3 lbs of grains, beans, and nuts, 1 lb of fruits and vegetables, and 1 lb of meat, eggs, and dairy products. That is more than 3,500 calories per person per day, a generous amount of food that everyone could survive on. And despite what many people think, emergencies account for less than 8 percent of hunger’s victims. Chronic hunger is therefore not a matter of lack of food or natural disasters; it is a matter of unequal and unfair distribution of food. Some people can afford to buy food and they have so much they end up throwing tons of it away every year. Other people cannot afford to buy food and they suffer and starve. Some of us have too much, while others have nothing at all. I will explore one of the reasons our world got to this point of drastic inequality in tomorrow’s post.
I woke up this morning and tried to avoid the kitchen. I planned to power through my work, thinking that if I kept myself occupied I would be too busy to think about food. Oh, how wrong I was. The hunger was only slight and intermittent; my desire to eat more out of habit than anything else. But it was persistent. For nearly 28 years I’ve had a hearty breakfast most mornings, so my body wasn’t sure how to start the day without one. I kept finding myself standing up and taking a step towards the kitchen before I would catch myself and remind my grumbling stomach that I wasn’t going to do that today. I found myself watching the clock, counting down the hours until I could make dinner.
My weight, the numbers on the scale, is meaningless to me, something I only know about once or twice a year at routine doctor’s visits. And yet when I am crouched under the sink, digging through the bathroom cabinet to find our rickety old scale, I find myself terrified by the thought of those numbers shrinking. I weigh in at 125 lbs, slender yet strong at 5’9. I love my muscles and I pride myself on my strength and the thought of that diminishing elicits the first real blast of panic I’ve felt yet. I eye my reflection in the mirror, ashamed that this is what is preoccupying my mind.
By the time I begin preparing dinner I have a slight headache and my hands feel a little shaky as I measure out the ingredients. I am beside myself with excitement at the thought of eating this simple meal of potatoes, chickpeas, and veggies. This dish isn’t too far off from what I eat normally, although the portion size is distressingly small. Most of the world’s hungry people already eat a predominantly vegan or vegetarian diet simply because it is usually the most economical option.
As Kenda mentioned during her Souljourn, it isn’t the quality of food that I’m worried about, it is the quantity. The food that I eat over the next seven days is actually incredibly wholesome and nutritious; the portions will just be too small to sustain life. The ingredients all have plenty of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals to fuel anyone adequately, if eaten in larger than world hunger diet proportions. As a vegan I am well versed in refuting the protein myth (if you are eating enough calories from healthy foods, protein is not something you need to worry about on a plant based diet) and the calcium myth (the calcium in leafy greens are often better absorbed than calcium in dairy), and I know that the diet that is actually most likely to be insufficient and lacking in vital nutrients is the Standard American Diet, not the vegan diet. So, it is not the type of food (vegan) that I will be eating that is cause for concern. It is the minuscule portions and overall lack of calories.
The 1.2 billion people living with hunger throughout the world rely on a small selection of staple foods, augmented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and animal products, when they can be found. According to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations (FAO), the food staples that make up the bulk of the diet vary from region to region, but central to most human diets are 15 crop plants that make up 90 percent of the world’s food intake. 2/3 of this is rice, maize, and wheat, which are the primary staples of more than 400 million people. The need to rely on only a few food items places the world’s poorest people in a precarious situation.
FAO’s The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009 found that “At the end of 2008, domestic prices for staple foods remained, on average, 17 percent higher in real terms than two years earlier. This represented a considerable reduction in the effective purchasing power of poor consumers, who spend a substantial share of their income (often 40 percent) on staple foods.” The food and fuel crisis of 2006 – 2008 followed immediately by the global financial crisis of 2009 has seen the rates of the world’s hungry skyrocket, people who were on the brink saw their ability to cope crumble as the cost of living soared out of their reach. In our world where food is a commodity, and not a human right, the number of people living with food insecurity, and dying from hunger related causes, remains shockingly high.
My dinner tonight was a recipe from Veg News that Kenda Swartz Pepper shared with me. A simple and extremely delicious Ethiopian inspired meal of potatoes, chickpeas, onions, peas, carrots, and a few spices. This is similar to the kind of meals that I eat normally, but when I finished my bowl and realized there were no second helpings to be had it was demoralizing to say the least. When that thought was quickly followed by the realization that it would be another 24 hours till I could eat again it was all I could do not to tear up a little. As you can see the meal clocked in at a little less than 1,000 calories. Based on my age, weight, height, and activity level it is recommended that I consume 2,400 calories a day, so this is less than half of what I should be eating.
|Food Name||Amount||Calories||Fat (g)||Carbs (g)||Prot (g)|
|Olive oil||1 Tbsp||119||13.5||0||0|
Total Calories: 940
Total Fat: 37.9
Total Carbohydrates: 125.7
Total Protein: 29.2
To support the organizations I write about in this series, purchase a World Hunger: Be the Solution Tee. Proceeds from the shirt will go to the Small Planet Institute Fund and the International Fund for Africa. All tees are sweat free and available in organic cotton. To see the selection of World Hunger tees at Conducive’s Humanitarian & Human Rights Tee store, click here
At the end of Day 1 of my Souljourn I’d like to leave you with a video from the World Food Program. Click here to watch.
Natasha’s World Hunger Journey
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 2
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 3
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 4
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 5
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 6
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 7
To follow Kenda Swartz Pepper’s World Hunger series from the beginning, you can click the links below:
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 1
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 2
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 3
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 4
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 5
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 6
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 7
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 8
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 9
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 10
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 11
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 13
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 14
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 15
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 16
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 17
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 18
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 19
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 20
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 21
Solutions for World Hunger: Part I
Solutions for World Hunger: Part II
Solutions for World Hunger: Part III