Sunday October 14, 2012
Going hungry in a world of plenty
By SOO EWE JIN
A SMALL item appeared in the foreign news pages of this newspaper last Wednesday quoting the latest UN hunger report, which revealed that the number of the world’s hungry has gone down by 13% to 868 million.
The vast majority of the hungry, 852 million, live in developing countries – around 15% of their population – while 16 million people are undernourished in developed countries.
More than 100 million children under five are underweight, and childhood malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 2.5 million children every year.
It was around this time last year that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies published its World Disasters Report 2011 and pointed out that the number of obese people is far more than the number of people who do not have enough to eat.
Bekele Geleta, the IFRC secretary-general, wrote: “As an Ethiopian, I saw first-hand my country’s terrible famine in the mid-1980s. I know what it means for people to starve.
“I find it perplexing and dismaying that when there is more food available than ever before, when agricultural yields have increased hugely, when there are 1.5 billion people worldwide classified as obese, 925 million people simply don’t have enough to eat.”
Okay, if I have not already spoilt your Sunday lunch, let me share with you how such statistics, which may appear clinical and far away, are reflected in our daily life.
Have you been to a wedding dinner at a five-star hotel lately? I can assure you that by the time the third or fourth dish comes around, the conversation on politics (since everyone expects anyone who works in the media to know when the general election will be held), will shift to the topic of food.
“Another meat dish? Why no vegetables?” “Wonder whether there will be dumplings for dessert?” “This will really be bad for my gout!”
Meanwhile, I can observe that when people talk too much, they eat very little. By the third or fourth dish, more food is left uneaten. In all my years attending such dinners, I have yet to see the last dish before dessert, usually some form of fried rice, ever being completed.
And what about the buffet line? This again is another classic case of too much food made available, resulting in much wastage at the end of the day.
An exception was this quirky news item in the British press last week about two young men who have been banned for life from an all-you-can-eat buffet at the Gobi Mongolian Barbecue restaurant in Brighton – for eating too much.
George Dalmon, 26, and Andy Miles, 25, were regulars for the past two years, but the owner finally decided that he had had enough with the duo.
“We are not a charity, we’re a business. It’s our restaurant and we can tell people not to come back if we don’t want them to,” he said.
We may laugh at such incidents, but if we juxtapose such daily occurrences with the harsh reality of how food resources are available on a worldwide scale, as the UN and IFRC reports have shown, it is not really a funny matter.
Maybe we should pause and ask ourselves if we are contributing to the crisis. Are we living simply so that others may simply live?
Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin hopes that we will not be saying all too often that we have eaten so much that we cannot sleep, when we know that 15% of the world’s population goes to bed at night hungry.