‘World Hunger’ is An Obscenity

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Isn’t it ironic? Within the same news cycle, studies show an epidemic in child obesity in North America, yet in some areas of Canada one in four children go to bed hungry every day. That is 25%, people! At the same time I read elsewhere that 27% of food in America is wasted. As a UN group is meeting to discuss the world food crisis, a study out of London, England says 6.7 million tons of food is thrown out annually in the UK.

Kids in my city are begging for “money for food” (and yes, I live in one of the richest cities in North America,)as a non profit organisation is gathering food ‘waste’ from the gazillion upscale restaurants to redistribute to the city’s hungry.

Typical food waste in Barnet.
Typical food waste in Barnet

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of England recently said that “tackling hunger is a “moral challenge to each of us” and also threatens the “political and economic stability of nations”. Mr. Brown is on a “junket”(pun intended) of worldwide meetings to address the current crisis.

But really, people going hungry in the world is NOT a new problem. Remember Biafra in the 1970’s? Daily newspapers had graphic pictures of children and their families starving to death. At that time, the music industry – and the mega rock stars – responded to address and help the problem.

And yet, here we are in a new century and with the same old “problem”. I find it very interesting that only now, when food prices globally are skyrocketing, that North America feels the pinch, and understands that there may be a problem.

As long as we aren’t personally affected by starving masses, children dying of hunger in all corners of the planet, as long as we can look away from the child/man on the street corner with his hand out for food money, there is no food crisis. And we continue to waste food at an astronomical rate.

Leaders from 181 countries met in Rome recently to talk about the need for increased food production. One rare consensus reached there was that the world must double food production by 2030. Really?

Apart from laying out in stark details the areas most in need, and reporting on areas where the WFP is feeding people, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme said – in part:

“We can defeat hunger. We can achieve global – and local – food security. The world knows how to do this.”

“Here is our opportunity – and our human dilemma. We simply cannot solve this challenge divided. The situation we face presents an opportunity for the global community to demonstrate concerted leadership as never before”.

This report is a must read. Even if you think you know how many countries face starvation, the long list of countries on that site is mind-boggling. Go here [Link: http://www.fighthunger.org/english/?ModuleID=137&Key=2864] to read it all.

As world leaders discuss how to feed the world, the NY Times has a piece called “Into the Trash it Goes”. According to a federal study, 96.4 billion tons of food was wasted by US retailers, food service businesses, and consumers in 1995. That is 13 years ago.

Waste and Resources Action Programme in England, (WRAP) released a report, and the BBC bases a number of stories on their findings. In an article called “Food waste on a ‘staggering’ scale” the BBC says:

(WRAP) found that salad, fruit and bread were most commonly wasted and 60% of all dumped food was untouched.

The study analysed the waste disposed of by 2,138 households…The study found that Pounds 9bn of avoidable food waste was disposed of in England and Wales each year.

It is mostly food that could have been consumed if it had been better stored or managed, or had not been left uneaten on a plate… [Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7389351.stm]

Some of the statistics in that study are truly unfathomable to me. For example, the average household throws away 18% of all food bought, while families with children throw away 27%. Within the numbers are: Bakery goods made up 19% of all avoidable food waste. Vegetables contributed 18%. Meat and fish – 18% of food wasted. WRAP said 5,500 whole chickens were thrown away each day in the UK. Read the rest of that article here: [Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7389351.stm]

World food shortage? Not so much when you read these stories. But it is only now, when a bag of rice has doubled in price on my local food shelves, that people in the richest nations on earth are affected by how the world responds to that most basic of human rights: food.

At the conference in Rome, it seems the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon blamed most of the current crisis on the ‘wealthy nations “wasteful and excess consumption of food”. All well and good to identify where he sees the blame as belonging, but rather than just use simplistic cliches, it is now long overdue for all of us to address the social, geographical and – in my view anyways – the political aspects of the dilemma. Who can forget the recent disaster in Burma where the military juntas refused to allow food aid in to help their starving population?

As US ships stayed offshore, loaded down with food and emergency relief for those poor people, we were treated to obscene pictures of the military generals strutting around in their crisply pressed uniforms. Crisis? What crisis? In Sudan, as thousands are still being killed in a genocide, many still die of hunger as the UN agrees to “study”, “discuss”.

Seems to me, it is not nearly enough for the WFP to say:

“Today I am reassured the global community has both of these in abundance. Let today mark the moment of hope, momentum and global action.”

I have never understood why some of us can waste so much food, while others starve to death. From where I sit, with world transportation so easily organised, there is NO excuse for not shipping food to countries that are hungry. As a short term, immediate solution, I believe we could ‘feed the world.’

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach that man to fish, and he can feed his family forever.

I truly believe the world …“can defeat hunger. We can achieve global – and local – food security. The world knows how to do this.” ALL it takes is the political will of all the rich nations to first FEED the hungry, and then give them the tools, the support to “fish” in their own communities to provide sustainable food for the future. This is NOT rocket science, no matter how many experts go to their fancy (probably catered) conferences and huff and puff as they “discuss” the problem.

Back in the 1970’s Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen et al sang:

There comes a time

When we heed a certain call

When the world must come together as one

There are people dying

And it’s time to lend a hand to life

The greatest gift of all

We can’t go on

Pretending day by day

That someone somewhere will soon make a change

That “someone” has to be each of us in the bloated western world. Time for talk is over. As long as one child – anywhere on the planet – is hungry, we “cannot look away.” Lives depend on us demanding our politicians act. NOW!