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This month, I am releasing a 60-second video on hunger every day. 1 in 9 people in the world experience food insecurity. You can help people suffering from hunger by understanding why this problem happens in a world with plenty of food.
Day 1 (Intro): This is a great time to do something to help people who are struggling. No one should go hungry and we don’t have to live in a world with food insecurity. The first stop to taking action is knowing what action to take.
Day 2 (Varied Diet): Hunger isn’t just getting enough calories, it’s also when you can’t get the right calories by eating different types of foods. Many people aren’t able to get the diverse diets they need. We as humans need a wide range of nutrients to thrive, and we usually get these from eating a varied diet. Eating a monotonous diet means failing to get protein and micronutrients, which are necessary for health and growth.
Day 3 (Stunting): When children experience prolonged hunger, they can suffer from what we call stunting. Stunting is a very harmful health outcome for children, and it is largely irreversible. It is a result of the build-up over time of ongoing undernutrition and poor health. Nutritionists identify children as stunted if their heigh falls below that of 95% of well-nourished children of the same age. These are kids at high risk.
Day 4 (Brain Development): Brain systems regulating mood develop even before birth. Those in charge of attention and multitasking have a growth spurt in the first 6 months. Regions governing spatial understanding grow most rapidly in the first 18 months. During these and other critical periods, nutritional deficiencies can seriously undermine development, leaving small children permanently behind the curve.
Day 5 (Hunger Legacies): Early nutritional deficits may be correlated with reduced cognitive capacity in later adulthood. This has devastating implications. Poorly nourished children grow up to be less successful than they otherwise could, increasing the likelihood of passing on their own poverty and undernourishment to their own children.
Day 6 (There’s Enough Food): Even where people are starving, food is often available. What acutely hungry people lack is either the land to grow food or the income to buy what they need. Food may be there, but if they haven’t grown it, they starve because they don’t have the money to buy it. The world produces enough calories to provide sufficient energy for everyone on the planet – roughly 2,900 calories per person per day.
Day 7 (Conflict): Civil unrest undermines food production and distribution. It’s hard to grow food and get it to where it needs to go during conflict and war. Famines are relatively rare, although they do occur, but most of the famines in the past 25 years can be traced to war or armed conflict.
Day 8 (Tip 1): There are programs and policies we can support (or initiate!) to promote good nutrition in children. Just to name a couple, if you’re from the US, are you familiar with USDA’s WIC? It stands for Women, Infants and Children. If you’re global or interested in the international, check out the World Food Programme. Ultimately, wield your political power and vote. Also remember, you vote with your dollars.
Day 9 (Tip 2): Sometimes change doesn’t come from taking immediate action, but from slowly changing our mindsets and belief systems. People often ask me to write specific “what can I do” tips – and while there are small and immediate changes we can make, often the most important work happens inside of us. War drives hunger.
Fight Love for peace.
Day 10 (Tip 3): Guilt is often a paralytic and can make us freeze rather than take action. There’s no reason to feel guilty because you have enough to eat (assuming you’re not outrageously wasteful). Enough food is a basic right we should all have. Rather, try for a sense of justice and compassion, which are much stronger motivators when it comes to taking action over the long term – and long term action is what we need.
Day 11 (Lack of Production Diversity): A lack of what we call “production diversity” is a cause of hunger. This means that only one or two crops are being grown locally – and one or two crops is not enough to ensure good nutrition (and people cannot access non-local crops). We can’t thrive on a staple grain alone; we need protein and micronutrients from a varied diet.
Day 12 (Seasonal Shortages): Crops have seasons of harvest. In places that depend on local food production – meaning they grow what they eat locally – when it’s time to harvest, they might be able to enjoy having enough to eat of foods they need. However, they might not be able to store this crop much past the season of harvest. Storing food can be a huge challenge.
Day 13 (High Prices for Non-local Foods): If people in a particular region can’t or aren’t growing and storing the diverse types of crops they need – but also can’t afford to buy the supplemental foods they need – they will go hungry or experience malnutrition. In many places, foods that can’t or aren’t grown locally, while available, are too expensive for people to afford.
Day 14 (Poverty and Hunger): Poverty due to limited economic opportunity is a driving cause of malnutrition. Basically, people cannot afford to buy the food that is available, and they starve or experience ongoing malnutrition. A lack of economic opportunity that causes hunger is not a choice.
Day 15 (Economic Development): Basic economic development can help decrease hunger and malnutrition, but this takes decades. Meanwhile, multiple generations of children miss out on development gains, grow up to achieve less of their potential and increase their chances of passing on their poverty to their own children.
Day 16 (Food Deserts): In wealthy countries, people also experience hunger. For poor people, options for buying healthy and fresh foods are limited. For instance, healthy foods may be more expensive, or there is no nearby grocery store. This is called a Food Desert.
Day 17 (Population and Hunger): Population and hunger are intertwined. The number of people, where these people live, how old these people are – all impact food security. Population is significantly more complicated than a number, and it underpins many concerns around hunger and food insecurity.
Day 18 (Mortality/Fertility): Population can be broken down into mortality rates – basically, the age at which a person dies – and fertility rates, or how many children a woman has. Wealthier countries have transitioned to a low mortality/low fertility model, while poorer countries generally retain a high mortality/high fertility model.
Day 19 (Population and Location): Where people live is a very important component of population and hunger. Today, Asia currently hosts a majority of the world’s population, at almost 60%. And while the African continent has fewer inhabitants than China, it is there that the largest population increases are expected.
Day 20 (Inequality and Population): Inequality is reflected in population. It signals a kind of demographic divide between rich and poor countries. Populations in high-income countries are comparatively small and grow slowly, if at all. Poor countries, on the other hand, have high fertility and grow rapidly.
Day 21 (Tip 4): Organic, non-GMO and other specialty health foods are very popular in our culture right now. They are also, almost exclusively, significantly more expensive than conventional foods that offer the same nutritional value and the same degree of safety. Not everyone can afford to eat this way. Make the decisions that are right for you, but don’t make comments to other people to make them feel guilty, ashamed or like they are doing something wrong for themselves and their families if they can’t afford these options.
Day 22 (Tip 5): Many of us were raised to believe we must finish our plates, because other people in the world are starving or hungry. This causes many people to keep eating when they are already full, which at best makes you uncomfortable and at worst causes health problems. This is a myth. Finishing your plate does not help hungry people. The causes of hunger are what we discussed in our earlier videos: conflict, food prices being too expensive, inability to access food, inability to access land to grow food, poverty, etc.
Day 23 (Tip 6): So far this month, we have covered the root causes of hunger. They are built into our systems – or the way we live socially, politically and economically. Eradicating hunger means getting at the core of the problem; which means changing our systems. This needs to happen on a local, regional or global scale. However, no one person can make all that change. Figure out where you want to focus, and start learning about what systems create hunger and inequity in your community – either locally, regionally or – if you like – on the global scale.
Day 24 (Water Resources): We need water to live, we need it to grow our food and we need it to produce the electricity and fuel that transport food to our doors. If there are extreme droughts or not enough water, we cannot grow the crops we need to feed people. Despite its critical importance to all life and to feeding us, many of us often take water for granted.
Day 25 (Aquifers): Underneath our feet is a treasure trove of fresh, clean water. These are called aquifers, or groundwater resources. An aquifer is an underground body of rock and/or sediment that holds water. People access an aquifer by digging a well. When too much water is pumped out of an aquifer, we harm them beyond repair.
Day 26 (Green-water Resources): Rain that falls from the sky and lands directly on the soil and feeds into the root of a plant is the most direct and sustainable way of delivering water. In agriculture, this is referred to as rainfed, and it uses a green-water resources, which is the most efficient and ecological type of water resource.
Day 27 (Water Footprints): Every food product we eat contains some volume of “invisible water” that was used during its growth but that is no longer contained in the actual food product itself. During crop growth, a huge quantity of water is consumed that doesn’t actually stay in the plant.
Day 28 (International Trade): As agriculture depends on climate and soil, some areas are well-suited for farming and some areas aren’t. The only way people in some regions can enjoy fresh fruits or vegetables during the winter, or other food products that can’t be grown locally, is to import them from another place.
Day 29 (Climate Change): Our food depends heavily on climate. Agriculture is one of the industries most exposed and vulnerable to climate change. To ensure hunger and malnutrition to not worsen in the future, we urgently need to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Day 30 (Technology): Our productivity – the amount of food we can grow – is much higher today due to technology and research. Today, one farmer can produce so much more on a parcel of land than before. We need technology to beat hunger and grow food sustainable.
Day 31 (Recap): We’ve reached the end of our learning series. There is so much to understand about hunger, and we’ve covered only a small portion in these videos. Thank you for joining me for this month of learning, and I hope you are inspired to work toward a small amount of change!