The first taste of chocolate after you’ve been starving is exquisite. I should know; it was the first thing I put in my mouth after completing my seven day world hunger journey. Since I had just woken up, I followed that piece of chocolate with my typical breakfast of a tall and frosty green smoothie and then settled in for a day of rest and recuperation. My seven days of mimicking the diet of the world’s 1.2 billion chronically hungry people was mercifully at an end and I could go back to the soft and luxurious life that I most definitely have done nothing to deserve. Physically, I was thrilled every time I realized I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Mentally, I was grateful that I didn’t have to spend the day as I had spent the seven previous; reading heartbreaking poverty reports and studying enraging hunger statistics. I gave myself several days to linger over the writing of today’s article about igniting change, as well as completing my interview with the creator of the World Hunger Souljourn movement: Kenda Swartz Pepper. I rested, I relaxed, I luxuriated; I was done.
Seven days with only a thousand calories a day concentrated in one evening meal has left me exhausted and missing three pounds that I did not want or need to loose. I spent my first day of recuperation in and out of sleep, barely awake except to wander to the kitchen and eat. It was if I was in recovery from an illness, my body demanding massive amounts of sleep and food. It would be completely false and morally reprehensible for me to suggest that the hunger and weariness that accompanied my journey of voluntary undernourishment can in any way ever remotely compare to the challenges facing the 1 out of 6 people affected by world hunger. I knew that logically going in, but I know it viscerally now. As I mentioned in my Day 7 post, I always had a tomorrow, a specific day on the calendar that I knew would bring the experience to a close and deposit me safely back into my old life of plenty. There is no experiment I could do, no journey I could take, that would approximate the absence of that tomorrow and for that I am profoundly grateful.
But as much as I rejoiced in the completion of this journey, I found that I wasn’t really done. The aftereffects lingered on and overwhelmed me, suddenly and with no warning. While reading a book the words would swim out of focus and my eyes would see instead the face of that young mother in Sudan who lost all three of her children to hunger related diseases. While talking to my family their voices would be drowned out by the shrill hitching gasps of her sobbing. When chopping vegetables to add to my salad the knife would clatter to the cutting board and I would stare silently at the food spread out in front of me, running quick calculations in my head: those carrots have 150 calories – would that have been enough to save her children? The chickpeas have 300 calories – could that have kept them alive one more day? I found myself slumped on the floor doing a mental tally of all the food in my kitchen, the full to the brim refrigerator and the heaving bounty of my pantry; how many people could this food save? How many people could survive off of the ‘staple’ items sitting in my cupboard?
Friends and family kept asking me how I was feeling and I couldn’t really answer them. I’m still not sure if I can. I thought that once I started eating and sleeping normally I would be able to process the experience, analyze my feelings, and put some order to my thoughts. But is has been several days now and things still aren’t clear; I am still reacting to this journey on an almost purely emotional level. The imprint this experience has left on my heart is not fading anytime soon. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t want it to. I don’t have the right to live thoughtlessly; none of us deserve to live without thinking of others and the impact our actions have on the world.
As I wrote in Day 1 of my hunger Souljourn I have always been staggered by the overwhelming magnitude of the problem of world hunger. 1.2 billion people, 16% of humanity, faces chronic hunger. The numbers used to stop me in my tracks, with a problem so huge, I wondered, where should I even start? How can one person even begin to make a difference? After my seven day journey was over, I had the exact opposite feeling. The problem wasn’t any longer how to make a difference in such a huge problem, but how to pick one of the many, many solutions to focus on. As angry and heartbroken as this world hunger experience made me, it also gave me hope and joy, because there are thousands and thousands of people in the world who have devoted their life to fighting this tragedy, and many more who find ways to make room in their own life for activism and support. Never again will I waste my time thinking that one person can have no impact.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
In my next reflections article I will talk more specifically about actions we can take in our lives to affect change in our community and around the world. Today, however, I want to talk about what I see as step number one, the most important step of all: igniting the spark of change in our soul. Without this internal desire and willingness to take a stand none of the subsequent external strategies will have any effect. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, after all, and that first step has to take place in the confines of each person’s heart. There has to be a switch flipped, a candle lit; that certain something that is fundamental and central to each of us must be ignited in order to fuel the fire of compassion and compel us to action.
This post is aimed at a very specific group of people. The way I see it, people, in general, have three mindsets about activism and taking action to change the world. There is one group of people who have already experienced this internal shift, and are already dedicated to actively working towards a better planet for us all. Then, there is a group of people that, for whatever reason, will not be moved by any stories of inequality and oppression, and simply will do nothing to change the world or improve the lives of others. Fortunately, this group is quite small. The largest group, in my belief, is the people who do want to help but have not yet taken the step to do so. They feel pain for others, they know the world is unbalanced and needs to be made right, but they haven’t been moved to action yet. Perhaps they are paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem, like I was at the beginning of my world hunger Souljourn. Perhaps they are not sure how to help or where to start. These people are standing on the brink of activism with hearts full of good intentions, and they are the ones we need to reach out to the most.
“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” ~ Khalil Gibran
Throughout the course of my 7 day Souljourn when I would ask world hunger experts and food justice activists what was the key to solving chronic hunger I would hear one answer, again and again: education. I was told that if more people in the developed world knew about the deprivation and suffering caused by chronic hunger then surely it would move people to take action and do something to alleviate this inequality.
I recognize the importance of education and raising awareness about issues like poverty and chronic hunger, but I believe that strategy goes hand in hand with the need for people to take responsibility and action in their own lives . Because when it gets right down to it, I believe that most of us already know the facts, we know there are billions of people suffering from poverty, and 1.2 billion people who don’t have enough food. We already know these thing. We have all become accustomed to hearing the facts and the accompanying underlying implication that the problem is just too huge for one person to do anything about. The problem isn’t a lack of knowledge; it is a lack of action.
I believe the real solution actually lays at the place in our hearts where the wick of action is ignited and where we move away from the exclusive gathering of data towards the determined march of action, agitation, and revolution. The lies we are fed by the powers that be that profit from our mindless consumption and reluctance to question the status quo bolster the myth that ‘one person can’t change the world’. But not only can one person change the world, we are never really just one person to begin with. When you speak up and reach out and place yourself into the struggle, you aren’t just one individual person anymore; you are part of a wave of transformation. Your single voice becomes amplified when you demand change in unison with your neighbors, your strength grows when you link arms with your friends, and the changes you make will echo around the world. You’ve just got to take the first step.
Unfortunately I can offer no fail safe methods or sure fire advice to guarantee that people will take action. At the end of the day, after all the facts have been digested, all the documentaries watched, and all the inspiring speeches given, ultimately everyone must light their own wick. There comes a time when we have to look around at the ruins of this planet and the destruction our lifestyle has wrought, and decide that we can do better, that we deserve better.
You have to take the first step. Nothing I say really matters unless you do something about it. Changing the world is up to you. If you don’t do something who will? What if the ripple your stone may have created would have been the most important one of all? What if you really can change the world?
“There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~ Jim Morrison
A few weeks ago I was one of those good intentioned souls standing on the brink of activism, frozen by the monstrous horror of world hunger. It was a strange feeling for me to keep circling an issue without ever making a move. That kind of paralysis is usually alien to my life, as first and foremost I consider myself an activist. I love nothing more than agitating for animal rights or women’s rights, or protesting globalization and exploitation capitalism. Taking a stand feels natural to me, so why did this one topic seem so different, so out of reach?
When I first found Kenda Swartz Pepper’s 21 day world hunger Souljourn it was the spark that lit my internal wick, it pushed me right over the edge and brought everything home. Reading her research and her thoughts shoved the crisis right into my face in a way that I couldn’t possibly ignore. I read through her 21 day journey, then found I couldn’t get it off my mind. I read it again, I donated money, and still felt like I hadn’t done enough; because if there is one thing that Kenda makes clear it is that we cannot afford to be armchair activists when it comes to the suffering of 1 out of 6 human beings.
I contacted her and felt a bit star struck when she got back to me, in what I now know is her characteristic down to earth and generous way. Kenda is a woman who has the knack for making people feel connected to her, as if she is an old friend who thinks we are all just awesome. So many people have told me that her 21 day journey sparked a change in their own life, too. I’ve heard from parents who are doing homeschooling segments about world hunger with their kids, dozens of people who have decided to raise money for one of the organizations she suggested, one group in particular that is staging a music concert to raise money, and many others who are doing their own Souljourn to raise awareness and keep the movement growing.
Kenda was kind enough to share some of her thoughts with me about world hunger, environmentalism, activism and changing the world. This is the first part of a 2 part interview, next time the questions will focus on adopting an earth-centric diet, the corporatization of agriculture, and solutions for people who cannot access the kind of healthy, organic food they want.
Burge: Everyone I have shared your World Hunger Souljourn with was so incredibly moved by your journey. How did you come up with such a profoundly life-changing idea?
Pepper: Thank you, Tasha. I’m not sure if there’s a short answer to this question! In the spirit of sparing you my entire life’s history, I’ll try to sum it up in a couple-few paragraphs. I was raised to be very aware of my environment having a role model, my Dad, who was in charge of a large section of Pennsylvania forests and who cared deeply about nature specifically trees and natural habitat. Both of my parents exhibited concern for those less fortunate. And while our family dealt with our own struggles and we were not in any economic sense wealthy, my parents didn’t hesitate to help other people. Strangers were invited in for meals and a call for help was invariably answered.
As a kid, I found myself defending other kids who were bullied and had no qualms about telling people to pick up their litter. My need to stand up for the rights of others continued to manifest itself in starting petitions at school. While a petition for a girl’s soccer team didn’t have a positive outcome, a petition to allow girls to take an extra shop class in lieu of a home-economics class came to fruition. To this day, that single action likely explains the reason I’m more comfortable holding a vice-grip than a garlic press! Since that time, I’ve engaged in various activities rallying to support different causes – mostly environmentally related. And for several years my work revolved around providing therapeutic support to families and children with special needs.
While I like to consider that I’ve led a relatively conscious life, for several years I had a nagging need to do more. Specifically more for the earth. I’m watching in an almost disassociated way the destruction that is occurring even in my own little microcosm let alone throughout the world. I can see the goodness, too, and I try to focus on all the proactive people who care and who are making a difference. I continually try to remain hopeful, yet habitat destruction caused by human actions, and human rights inequities deeply affect me. Profoundly. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel it so profoundly. Sometimes I wonder if there is any way out of the situation we humans have created. Add to that my personal painful experience of dealing with over a dozen deaths these past three years – people who I loved and admired – including a dear friend from college who took his own life, my Godfather, an amazing mentor and activist who died on her way to a peace rally in Nairobi, and the death of my Dad.
All of these experiences compounded and propelled me spiraling and spinning to a new place possibly out of a desire to heal and mostly out of a desire to get very grounded in my purpose. These experiences forced me into an existential crisis that pushed me to see the fragility of life and that churned into an intention to do what I could to impact positive change; to honor the deaths of these special people and to feel the comfort of knowing that living fully isn’t accomplished in a vacuum or in vain. After many attempts to choose a path, I decided my first attempt at publishing would be a children’s book. Well Earth Well Me, a children’s picture/rhyme book about caring for the earth, will be released this Fall. I believe children are intuitively the wisest humans and because they are amazing change agents, they are my current book reading demographic of choice. But still I feel the need to do more.
I came up with the 21 Day Souljourns because I wanted to learn more and find a (hopefully) interesting way to capture attention, to share and to inspire others to help influence change. The 21 Day Souljourns were designed to keep me moving from one mind-spirit-earth topic to the next; to keep me focused on my intentions. Perhaps they’re even a way to keep me accountable. World Hunger was simply a topic that concerned and interested me. Something I wanted to learn more about especially because of the human-earth connection. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this particular topic captured every bit of my DNA, and I haven’t been able to move on from it. So now, while I still intend to adventure into other Souljourns this year, I will also continue focusing on world hunger as well. And thanks to Conducive Chronicle, I am supported by a forum that aligns with my values and by editors who support my efforts to help create change.
Okay, the short answer to your question: The World Hunger Souljourn spawned from my love and appreciation for this extraordinary earth and deep concern for her amazing inhabitants. Why didn’t I just say that to begin with?!
Burge: It seems that many people are willing to change the car they drive, recycle, carry reusable grocery bags, and more, but are hesitant to change their food habits, saying that “food is personal”. How can we overcome the notion that food is sacrosanct and exempt from analysis and criticism?
Pepper: This question brings up so much for me. I first need to address that, sadly, there are people who are still not willing to do some of those simple things (specifically the low cost things) you mentioned. I’ve even seen it where I live with the paper/plastic bag issue. I do believe it boils down to folks not wanting to be told what to do in combination with the difficulty of changing habits. I think we live in a society that too easily feels powerless (some to big business and some to big government and then some to both), so folks exert their power at curious times. That’s what I’ve seen here with a law being passed to ban paper and plastic bags. Folks angrily speaking out against the government for forcing this unnecessary change while there are criminals walking the street and while education is a mess, etc. As if all of these things are mutually exclusive.
I believe food becomes very personal because it’s inherently a life-giving force even if modern society doesn’t necessarily consciously see it or articulate it as such. Food is considered sustenance. Health. Energy and life giving. In some cultures, people commune around food. It’s social. So, I can see how it’s become personal.
It seems to me as if some prefer to hand over their power rather than gain information independently. Take patient-doctor relationships, for example. I have numerous examples of having worked with cancer patients whose oncologists told them to drink Ensure to gain weight. Ensure advertises itself as a product that strengthens the immune system. That has added protein and extra calcium for health. I’ve heard cancer patients and their caregivers say, “I need the nutrients” from Ensure. Have you seen the ingredients in this health drink? The top ingredients include sugar and maltodextrin. It’s a milk shake with added vitamins, essentially. Considering some basic nutrition (not what we learn from milk commercials), cow’s milk works against the immune system in addition to the fact that many people are allergic to cow’s milk. Experts like T. Colin Campbell have extensive research showing casein may be the most relevant cancer-causing substance that humans consume – even one serving of a cow’s milk product can be harmful – especially to someone who is already battling cancer. Yet oncologists still recommend Ensure! Unfathomable. My own father was told to drink the stuff from one of his doctors and naturally he wasn’t going to believe me and why would he read about it? Doctors are supposed to know about this stuff, right? These decisions speak volumes about the lack of nutrition training for doctors. Not to mention that doctors receive free samples and other goodies for product promotion and placement. So, yes, food is personal and potentially even more so when a doctor recommends specific products. It’s not uncommon for a person to hand over some (even all) power to a doctor.
And another irony to me is how I agree that food choice is very personal to many if not most people, yet to me I live in a society so far removed from understanding the impacts – both positive and negative – of food; that this personal choice is actually one that’s made in an uninformed manner. To me, I see people defending their choices with very little understanding of: 1) the origin of that food; 2) the policies that protect or oppose it; 3) the system from which it comes; 4) the ingredients in the food; 5) how that food landed in their grocery store; or 6) how that food helps or hinders health. I believe eating has become more about habit and instant gratification and is basically an unconscious process for a large portion of the Western population – especially US. And still, people will fight to have it the way they know it regardless of the impact it has and regardless of the fact that many know very little about it.
Burge: What, in your experience, has led people to make the connection between their mundane, everyday actions and the impact they have on the world at large? Do you have any suggestions as to how we can spark that change for more people?
Pepper: This is strictly my opinion, but I believe people who make that connection hold some specific attributes: general curiosity, heightened self-awareness, critical thinking skills, desire for self-actualization and a sense of empowerment. I do believe that some of those attributes develop as a person evolves. So, if someone starts out with curiosity and even a tinge of self-awareness, that individual is likely to seek learning experiences.
One of the places I volunteer is Natural Bridges State Beach. It boasts of the only insect preserve in the U.S. and is an overwintering site for the Monarch Butterflies. People come to visit because they’re curious to see the Monarchs or they want to see the tide pools or maybe they just want to go to the beach. In either case, many find their way to the Monarchs. For those who are able to see a different perspective – the Monarch lifecycle – their critical thinking skills get some exercise. Many leave with a heightened sense of self-awareness about how their behaviors impact the Monarchs – the environment. When they realize they can make an impact and for those who want to make an impact because they feel empowered to do so and because it helps them feel connected to their purpose (or higher power, etc), they slowly begin to make incremental changes.
I like how you wrote ‘spark that change’ instead of do I have suggestions to make people change. I’ve learned over the years that I cannot make anyone change – even if I still want to sometimes! I think the best we can do is share information in a way that helps others see the benefits to changing. Find a way to spark curiosity, to tap into a person’s ability to think critically instead of simply thinking in black and white terms and to offer tools for that individual to tap into their personal power. Most people want to know what’s in it for me? Help them identify the purpose for changing. Help them experience that incredible sense of joy that comes from making a positive impact on themselves, their family, and their surrounding world. And possibly most importantly for agents of change working to influence transformations: offer support for those in the change process. Some of the most powerful changes occur within a group or community – rarely in isolation.
Burge: When confronted with the overwhelming facts of world hunger many people have the initial response to donate money or food to a charitable organization. While this has its place, you have written about the need to take action in our own lives and in our own community, beyond writing a check. How do you inspire people to make this change?
Pepper: While inspiration is an internal motivator, it can be externally triggered or ignited. My suggestion is for folks to get clear about the end result and what they want. Do they want to make an impact right now? If so, then certainly donate (food or money) to organizations that deal with short-term needs and crises. There is a need for these organizations’ services during times of duress and crisis. However, if folks want to be a part of a sustainable solution, then focus on helping their own communities. It’s easier to look at a microcosm than to think about helping the whole world. By going local, eating locally grown food, individuals are advocating. And certainly, by petitioning local restaurants, hospitals (hospital food is horrendous!), and schools, these are actions that have long-term impacts.
Another form of advocacy is education. Readers can create change by staying informed and sharing information with others. Many don’t realize that the simple action of purchases we make at our local grocery store can impact someone who lives thousands of miles away.
Read stuff. And from different sources. Believe it or not, I read from various sources, not just lefty sites. The most compelling arguments come from those who are most informed… and who make articulate arguments with minimal typos. I just read a Rethink Review in the Huffington Post. It’s about the movie Dirt! The writer, Jonathan Kim, gives a great analogy to how we’re ruining our soil – treating it like a credit card. Kim continues by adding that even though many have benefited short-term from modern agriculture with some abundance, it simply isn’t a system that can sustain itself – similar to charging on the credit card now when one know s/he has no money to pay for the purchase when the bill comes later.
Be open to learning and growing while taking action for the future instead of only for today. I think stories are a fabulous way to inspire people – human interest stories. Not over-the-top pretend stories, but real-life experiences. Especially from people who have dealt with hunger. Be open to hearing and sharing stories – especially the stories of those less fortunate. Let your compassion keg get tapped.
Help connect others with the earth. Since we have technology that, in my opinion, can keep us disconnected from the earth, we might as well make the best use of it to get reconnected with others and the earth! Get out there on FaceBook, MySpace, Linkedin, Flickr, Twitter – whichever! I think social networking is an effective way to share information and build support for a cause. Yes, you may find yourself swimming against the tide given all the naysayers and folks calling you ecomaniac, but really, if you’re working for the best interest of the earth and others (including the folks badmouthing you), let them naysay. I do believe when people act on their highest intentions, good things will happen…not necessarily right away, but eventually.
And on that note, I am putting out a request for each reader to do one thing that alleviates world hunger. Whatever inspires you – be it human rights, animal rights, earth rights. Tap into that inspiration and know that your actions do indeed make a difference. Every time you make a choice at the store and put money on the counter, essentially you are casting a vote. Businesses, even more so than governments, tally those votes regularly and react accordingly. Know that you have the power to impact. And please know that your impact helps to create a more just world.
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
To Follow 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
Sustainable giving programs dedicated to providing solutions that help eliminate poverty and world hunger.
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