Category Archives: Good Food

For Good Food, I’m subtracting the percent of people in a country who are suffering hunger/malnutrition from 100 so that the number is a positive percentage of people in each country who presumably do have access to adequate nutrition. I would love this number to actually be reflective of a truly sustainable, healthy diet but it doesn’t exist yet!

Getting Smart about Food

When I first started putting together this blog I referred to my second indicator as simply “Food.” But after writing the initial post, I had to change it to “Good Food” as I realized that unless you are in an emergency famine situation and there is no other alternative, sending massive quantities of rice, wheat, and corn to developing countries is about as good an idea as stuffing Americans full of donuts, potato chips, pizza, and drinks laden with corn syrup. (If we’re looking for clues to the global obesity and related diabetes epidemics, there might be a few there.)

Recent news stories have been (in typical panicky media style) focusing on projected food deficits and the need for a second “Green Revolution” to increase the quantity of global food production. More food needs to be grown, the experts seem to be saying, and more land needs to be more productive.

We don’t need More Food. What we need is Better Food and Better Education (We also need Better Distribution. Much of the world’s food simply gets wasted through either inefficient systems or outright corruption both in the developed world and in the developing world. But that is a subject for another blog!)

At a recent Hunger Project gathering in New York, John Coonrod summed up our misunderstandings bluntly, pointing out that one thing both the developed and the developing world have in common is that, “We are all stupid about nutrition, rich and poor!”

The predominant theory across the planet still seems to be that there’s not enough quantity but fortunately there are more and more people out there advocating for quality.

You can watch this short series of discussions sponsored by the BBC on how to eliminate poverty to see one particular person, Vandana Shiva, a scientist and grassroots activist from India, explain how empowering small farmers (and not empowering large corporations) is a big part of increasing quality while eliminating poverty and hunger.

Trees_for_LifeIn Africa, the Moringa tree, found to be unusually rich in vitamins, is being cultivated in several countries providing a reliable nutrition source to stave off famine.

In the U.S., people are also questioning the large food companies and their methods, given the evidence of obesity rates climbing.

And there is a growing movement to simply grow your own which tends to be higher in nutrition. I am not the world’s best gardener but I have managed to grow a few tomatoes and some herbs this past summer on my small porch. (Maybe if we all grew one thing, there would be no “food deficit”?) This TED talk also sums up how small groups of people might be able to grown some of their own food, learn something about nutrition, and make their community a better place to live!

Like John said, we’re all stupid about nutrition, but it’s time to get smart!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Self-reliance and Sustainable Change to End Hunger

I’ve watched this new video from The Hunger Project Australia several times now and am just so impressed each time about how clearly and concisely the basic principles of self-reliance, empowerment, and vision are explained. In 5 minutes, Dr. Badiul Majumdar, Country Director of THP Bangladesh, and the THP-Australia group, mostly business people, encapsulate the basics of how we really can end hunger, not just in Bangladesh, but world-wide.

I will be going to a presentation by Dr. Majumdar in June — please let me know if you are going too!

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

Ending Hunger

Wouldn’t it be great to end hunger worldwide once and for all? For a long time, this seemed like an impossible dream. Then, in the latter half of the 20th century, the Green revolution in agriculture began, aid organizations began to look at what really worked, and infant mortality began dropping. Today, a little over half the people who were dying of hunger or hunger-related causes 40 years ago, are lost each day. And that’s with a significant increase in world population!

So what about Somalia? This is about as broken a country as you can find. But, on February 3, the U.N. announced that the famine was “over” (though acknowledging that huge amounts of work still needed to be done). The rains had returned, and people began returning to their homes to plant crops and put their lives back together as best they could.

What seems to have been overlooked in the whole crisis by the media is that, despite the large numbers of deaths and the initial slow response of the international community, the reaction, when it happened, was actually quite quick and effective. Refugee camp space with neighboring countries, Kenya and Ethiopia, was secured; aid organizations even reached out to Al-Shabab and succeeded in getting into previously off-limits territory; the capital, Mogadishu, was re-taken by African Union troops, and the Somali government, previously in exile, moved back in.

Just a couple of decades ago, Ethiopia was enveloped by famine and it took years to get under control. Whatever the international community’s failings this time around, the fact that this famine was relatively under control in less than a year, speaks volumes about changes in the approach of the aid community. Lessons were learned and lives were saved in Somalia, which gives me much new hope that we really can end global hunger and poverty.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. For a great piece on current trends which are heading towards ending hunger, see this excellent summary by The Hunger Project’s John Coonrod!

The Good News about Hunger

What I am about to say may surprise you: we are actually, slowly but surely, winning the battle to end chronic hunger and even malnutrition. If you watch the news at all, you probably won’t believe me. But it’s true. Thirty-five years ago, around 45,000 people a day were dying of chronic hunger and hunger-related causes. Today that number is closer to 25,000. In no way, shape, or form is that acceptable, and we need to keep fighting, but this is an incredible feat we need to occasionally stop and remind ourselves of, and it’s even the remarkable given that the world population has increased significantly over this time period.

I updated my “Food” numbers yesterday and was happy to see the actual figures reflecting the above facts. (Unfortunately, I am on the lookout for much more accurate numbers — the ones I had been using were from a Wikipedia page, List of countries by percentage of population suffering from undernourishment but the most recent data was from 2006. I found more recent data last night, trying to delve through the myriad, byzantine website that is the UN, and found a site on the MDG’s which I was able to use, but this data is only from 2007. Suggestions welcome!)

Even though the data is not completely up-to-date, it did show an improvement in many countries, which was heartening. I know that we have slid backwards lately, due to food price increases, natural catastrophes, and conflicts, but I am hopeful that, in some countries at least, this downward trend in malnutrition has continued.

One country that is now at 95% “nourished” (which is the highest the UN numbers would go — the “100’s” on my Google doc are from other sources) is Ghana, which was at 92% in 2006. One of the organizations I support, The Hunger Project, is active in the country and you can see exactly how their strategy has worked here.

As the world has reached out over the last few decades to countries whose populations are suffering from hunger, we’ve also learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. In recent years, the aid community has become increasingly self-reflective and this examination has revealed some ugly truths.

  • Throwing money and/or stuff at the problem doesn’t work — trillions of dollars (pounds, francs, euros, etc…) have been wasted on this strategy. (See Dambisa Moyo’s groundbreaking book, Dead Aid for a very honest — albeit no-punches-pulled — account.)
  • Building stuff is not always helpful. (See this recent talk by David Damberger at TED.)
  • Sometimes even help is not helpful, as when well-meaning but ill-informed aid workers in the DRC provided relief to Rwandan refugees during the 1994 genocide only to find out later that many of these same people went back to Rwanda and continued their slaughter. (This was outlined by David Rieff in his brilliant 2002 book, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis.)

So what have we found that does work? One strategy that is slowly being acknowledged by the aid community is to simply listen to what those who you want to help have to say. That’s a great starting point. Much more on this later.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Good Food

Today’s Number: 58.5983041657453 (Up .0018552857143! I finally added Samoa — and also figured out that American Samoa is not the same place….)

One goal I’ve set with my list of indicators is to focus on the positive rather than the negative part of the whole equation. “The World at 100” is a positive number. So, rather than using the stat for the percent of people in a country who are suffering hunger/malnutrition, I am instead subtracting that from 100 and coming up with a percentage of people in each country who do have access to adequate nutrition. (I would love this number to actually be reflective of a truly sustainable, healthy diet but, as noted previously, it doesn’t exist yet.)

There is so much to say about Food, Hunger and Malnutrition that I could go on for pages. One important and immediate note: I am looking for more recent data but my current figures are from 2006. This clearly does not represent an accurate picture (i.e., the East African drought/famine, Somalia) and I will continue looking for better data. (If you have a good source, please let me know.)

One of my favorite organizations is The Hunger Project, which has been on the cutting edge of addressing worldwide hunger/malnutrition problems for almost 35 years. They have worked to investigate the root causes of hunger and poverty, and then explored all potential solutions, honing their methods until they have come up with the most effective strategy possible. And then they do that all over again, constantly questioning solutions and improving results. (They’re also the only organization I know of who includes, as one of their stated goals, being out of business!)

Far more on this later.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC