Never going hungry in December

It’s a pretty obvious time of the year to write about food. December is the one month of the year where I barely need to go to the supermarket. As long as I have some fruit or milk or muesli to have for breakfast, all of the other meals seem to take care of themselves. It could be work parties, catching up with friends, family, lunch in the shopping centre food court as a break from the obligatory Christmas shopping, Christmas Day, the leftovers from Christmas Day… I never go hungry in December.

But other people do. This year, approximately 1.02 billion people were chronically hungry, about 15% of the estimated world population. This is up a staggering 166 million people from three years ago. The majority, of course, are in developing countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines chronic hunger as undernourishment. This generally covers protein-energy malnutrition which is the lack of protein and energy provided by the basic food groups. This undernourishment affects people’s ability to do basic physical activities such as work and study. Undernourished children grow slower physically and mentally than other children, and they have weaker immune systems. Undernourished mothers give birth to undersized and weak babies.

The average necessary daily intake is regarded as 1800 kcal per day. In McDonald’s terms, that’s about a large Quarter Pounder Meal and a McFlurry.

From 1969 to 2004 the proportion of the population of developing countries who suffered from chronic hunger had been falling steadily, from almost 35% of the population in 1969 to just over 15% in 2004. This coincided with a general decrease in the number of hungry people over the same period, from about 875 million to 850 million. The decreases in percentage and actual number are not proportional, likely because better nutrition meant that less people died from malnutrition.

But since 2004, both trends have begun reversing. From a low point of around 16% in 2004, the percentage of people in developing countries who are undernourished in 2009 is nearing 20%. In percentage terms the increase may seem to be not that bad (or not as bad as it could be) but in real terms, in numbers of people, the increase has been astronomical, especially in the last twelve months.

When I read figures and learn things like this, I am constantly at a loss what to do It’s such an obvious deficiency in the world. I’m no expert in this area (or any other for that matter) but you’d think that if there were easy answers, they would have been found and implemented by now. Through a cursory search it seems that the world produces around 1.5 times the food we actually need, and that most people who are undernourished live in countries which have food surpluses rather than deficits. The problem would appear to be that the people can’t afford to buy the food they need.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, I ate way too much food. I’m probably not alone there. I am also a pretty hefty eater, and a little overweight. I’ve felt crap and figuratively beat myself up about my weight and eating habits before. I’ve tried a number of the methods under the sun for cutting down on both, but none to date have been long-term solutions. But maybe something like eating less and sending the money I save to an organisation addressing hunger could do the trick. Good for the body, good for the soul? It’s worth a try.

Apologies for getting all self-reflective and soppy at the end there.

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