Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food: The Good, The Bad, and The Nasty

Today is World Food Day, Food is the theme for Blog Action Day 2011 and if there ever was a unifying theme for humanity, food would be near the top of the list. Some eat with their hands, some with cutlery, some with chopsticks, but who doesn't love food? Ice cream on a hot day? Chilli in the winter? Turkey dinner with family at thanksgiving?
Every person, everywhere, needs and loves food. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to consume the quality and quantity of food needed to lead a healthy, productive life.
Instead of writing an academic piece about food, malnutrition, poverty, or agriculture, I decided to share from my experience why food is so important, and a few different sides of malnutrition.
In coming to Ghana, I expected to see small children with bloated bellies, begging for food all over the place. I do see this sometimes, but more often than not the poverty I have experienced has been a poverty of malnutrition, not always hunger. Many have the basic food, but they lack money, and opportunity. Most Northerners in Ghana are farmers and thus, produce for themselves staple crops like maize and rice, and most compounds have at least a few animals; goats, sheep, chicken, cows, or more. Yet still, I have seen first hand that people may be able to eat every day, but it is often not nutritious enough.
Not enough protein, not enough fruits and vegetables, not enough variety.
Fufu with lightsoup is great, TZ with bra is not bad, but eating the same thing day in and day out is not the most exciting for your palate or your development.
Worse than this is eating nasty food. Nasty food may not appear to be nasty at first,it may actually be quite tasty and likely cheap, but the outcomes are nasty. Whether vomiting, or diarrhea, your body will try to reject whatever bacteria or parasite accompanied the other ingredients down your throat. I'm sure anyone who has been to a developing country has likely experienced this. It sucks. But even this state is manageable; you pop some meds for travellers diarrhea, likely Cipro, and before you know it your stomach is back to normal. But for some, this is a persistent lifestyle, and buying medicine is likely not high on the priority list, or just too expensive. And diarrhea remains one of the leading causes of death for children globally.
I think about children I know who look years younger than they are, children who miss several days of school every month because they are not well, and children who walk to school in the heat, hungry, without 5 pesewas to even buy water to drink, let alone food. For some, the dry season (or lean season) means they only get 1 or 2 meals per day. As the rainfall becomes more and more infrequent, they know their daily food habits are about to undergo significant changes.

The problem of food, hunger, and malnutrition is surely a global one but I hope we also see it as a very personal problem. I am grateful for the food I have each day, and that I have the luxury to invest in my health and nutrition. I pray for those who are hungry today, those who are malnourished, and I hope that with increased awareness and efforts by donors and development partners, 2011 and 2012 can be marked by significant strides in the direction of global food security.