Tuesday, November 18, 2008

World Hunger Week

I came across this article thanks to CNN's website today, and thought I would post the main text of it because it is so important. It also references Haiti, a country my childhood church has significant ties to, and that I someday very much would like to visit.

By John Blake

(CNN) -- Some mothers choose what their children will eat. Others choose which children will eat and which will die.

A Haitian boy begs for food. One child dies from hunger every six seconds, an aid agency says.

Those mothers forced to make the grim life-or-death choices are the impoverished women Patricia Wolff, executive director of Meds & Food for Kids, encounters during her frequent trips to Haiti.

Wolff says Haitians are so desperate for food that many mothers wait to name their newborns because so many infants die of malnourishment. Other Haitian mothers keep their children alive by parceling out food to them, but some make an excruciating choice when their food rationing fails, she says.

"It's horrible. They have to choose among their children," says Wolff, whose nonprofit group was formed to fight childhood malnutrition. "They try to keep them alive by feeding them, but sometimes they make the decision that this one has to go."

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies." Four decades later, King's wish remains unfulfilled. The global food market's shelves are getting bare, hunger activists say -- and it will get worse.

Food riots erupted across the globe this year in countries such as Egypt and India. Food pantries in the United States also warned that they were running out of food because of unprecedented demand. The news from the World Food Programme is even grimmer: A child dies of hunger every six seconds, and hunger now kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The end of food?

Wolff thinks hunger can be conquered. Her group produces "Medika Mamba," energy dense, peanut butter food that's designed to ensure Haitian children survive childhood. Medika Mamba is easy to make, store, preserve and distribute, she says.

"It just takes the will to do it," she says of eliminating hunger. "Look at what we did for Wall Street. We didn't have enough money for infrastructure, schools, but all of a sudden, we had all of this money for Wall Street."

Raj Patel, author of "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System," says the right to food should be seen as a human right. But, he says, powerful corporate food distributors control too much of the world's food supply to ensure a robust global food supply.

Patel says "2008 was a record year in terms of harvest. There's more food per person in 2008 than there's ever been in history. The problem is not food, but how we distribute it."

Other causes for the rise in global hunger have been documented. They include:

• Surging oil costs have made it more expensive to harvest, fertilize, store and deliver food.

• The rise in droughts and hurricanes worldwide has wiped out crops and made farming more difficult.

• The world is running out of the raw materials -- water, oil, good farmland -- needed to keep the food system intact.

"A lot of people have begun to understand at various levels that the food system, as it is, can't go on," says Paul Roberts, author of "The End of Food."

Every time an American bites down on a steak or hamburger, they're contributing to global hunger, Roberts says. As other countries become more affluent, they're copying our meat-heavy diet. The problem: It takes so much grain and other resources to produce meat, he says.

"If the rest of the world were to eat like we do, the planet would collapse," Roberts says. "There's been this unspoken assumption that the rest of the world won't eat meat like we do. That doesn't go over well in countries like China."

Fixing our food system would be similar to weaning ourselves of our addiction to oil, Roberts says. It's going to require innovation, heavy business involvement and changes in public policy.

People are going to have to find ways to grow food with less fertilizer and water, and use less energy to store and transport food, he says.

Much of this innovation will have to be driven not just by activist and aid workers, but by savvy business people, he says.

"It's going to have to be profitable or the market won't be interested in it," Roberts says. "And if the market isn't interested in it, it's not going to happen."

In the meantime, Wolff offers some of her own solutions. She says the practice of big foreign aid agencies shipping in food to poor countries like Haiti needs to be modified. Food has become too expensive to produce, ship and store, she says.

"You can't count on big aid agencies showing up to save everybody," she says. "Not everybody can do it, and when they do it, it's not soon enough and not long enough."

She suggests that more groups teach local farmers in poor places how to produce their own crops. In Haiti, for example, her group employs 22 Haitians who make Medika Mamba and teaches other farmers how to grow crops for the mixture.

"Instead of throwing fish in the crowd, we should be teaching people how to fish," she says.

Until that day takes place, Wolff, who is a pediatrician in St. Louis, Missouri, will continue to make her trips to Haiti, where mothers are forced to make their grim choices.

"It's the most difficult thing I've ever done," she says. "You realize how absolutely blessed you are by the fate of your soul coming down the chute in the United States of America," she says. "You wonder: Why did this happen to me and not to them?' ''

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Seattle buses

So, today marked my 13th straight working day taking the bus to and from my job at a downtown accounting firm in Seattle. My bus ride is easy (20 minutes, no transfers), and the buses come pretty promptly and often. Its actually been one of the more enjoyable parts of my day, as I get 40 minutes each day to people watch, observe, sit quietly, eavesdrop, etc.

That said, today it finally dawned on me that the bus is awkward. Kind of like elevator awkward, except much longer lasting. I climbed on the 4:02 pm bus from downtown, and it was one of those really long 3 sets of wheels ones. I sat in the center (where the middle turns - i am not so seasoned a rider that I don't still think this is pretty cool!), and 3 people sat down soon afterward in the cool turning-center-thingy with me. We were facing each other, and about close enough that if you put a card table down between us we easily could have played hearts (or Cribbominoes).

Well, none of them made eye contact! They pretended each of the rest of us wasn't there! Then I began to look around, and listen, and notice that the bus was silent, and most people had a blank stare on their face, or else were sleeping or reading, or what have you. We are all crammed into a small space, many of us touching, and no contact. Is this how we were designed? I don't think so! I think we are supposed to be relational, and interact as human beings. THe people on the bus today looked dead. I seriously only caught one person's eye on a bus with probably 100 people (and I was trying HARD!).

I will say that a man named Jose (the one who did make eye contact) defied the mold. He was intrigued by my curiosity and open staring (or something), and he crossed the imaginary card table space to sit next to me when my seat partner (who absolutely refused to look my way) got up and left. He sat down and introduced himself in broken English. He's from El Salvador, and could only speak a few sentences to me (unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish though I'm becoming more interested each day.) How is it that this man, for whom communication is so difficult in our country, had the energy and interest in speaking with a fellow rider what little he could, when so many of my compatriots who were born speaking my language did not even care to smile?

How does this happen? What in our society causes that many people, on a day in and day out basis, to try their hardest to pretend they are alone on a bus so clearly filled with people? Are we so maxed out by our jobs, our families, our busy lives, that to strike up a conversation with someone else, or even to offer a friendly smile as they sit down next to you closer than you'd ever sit next to a relative in the comfort of your own living room, requires too much effort?

Anyway, those were my musings today. The rest of this month (which marks a job switch, so I'm not sure how much bus riding I'll be doing after it), I may just make it my goal to talk to one person (or at least catch their eye long enough to smile!) each ride. That would be a potential 20 people I could encourage, smile at, or get to know a little who likely live and/or work in my neighborhood. I'll keep you posted, and try to stay out of trouble! :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A day for the history books...

Well, probably every one who blogs is blogging about this topic, so I certainly don't feel original or creative in writing about the election, but it is so stinkin' blog worthy!

I voted a week and a half ago (kind of anti-climactic in hindsight) and was glad for the opportunity, but didn't think a whole lot of it. Today, as I heard people on the bus claim they wouldn't go to work tomorrow if Obama did not win they'd be so depressed, I secretly scoffed at their fervor. I mean, come on: really, what is going to be so different tomorrow than today? Nothing. Even one year from now, will those people's lives be radically different? Even a little different because of who our president will be? Not likely...

So, I got home, and (still eager to see that Obama won) checked it out online to find that in fact he had! I was excited, but come on: moderately so, right? And who doesn't feel just the slightest bit bad for McCain, who poured his heart and soul into his campaign and who really did have a lot of good qualities, and who honestly believes he could bring important change and good things to the office just like Obama does?

Well, I couldn't bring myself to watch McCain's concession speech, its too sad, but I could watch Obama's. And I cried! For real! Who cries at these things, when they feel the way I did on the bus? I realized that the emotion gripping me as they played the big music and panned the crowd of 10s of thousands, was not for the change to come, but for the change that is. Look at us! We were still passing civil rights laws while the generations voting were alive and well. We have come so far in so little time, to be able to elect a non-white, non-full-European-background person to the presidency. And its not even a close race!!

As Obama said, all around the world people are watching. My friend Brienne in the Peace Corp in Tanzania said that the Tanzanians are partying because Obama won! What!? How crazy! But the world can see in our president a more accurate depiction of our country. We are not all white, or black, or hispanic, or any other race, but a true melting pot. We are learning how to meld all that together to be one unified country, and we made a statement today. Yes, Obama will bring change, I believe good change, but he represents to me that we are already changed, and indeed are willing to change as a country. That is what is so hopeful. That IS worth crying over.