Like most people, I adore food. I love that one of my first daily responsibilities (to myself and to all around me) is to eat a large, healthy breakfast (followed swiftly by my morning coffee). Beyond just satisfying my taste buds, it's what the doctor orders for a healthy metabolism and body function - and who am I to argue?
I don't just have to take the doctor's word for it, though, because I know from experience just how sensitive I am to missing meals. My productivity (not to mention my mood) plummets. Concentration takes twice as much effort with the added distraction of a rumbling stomach and a dull headache. It's surprising to me how quickly weakness sets in, how it affects not just my body but also my general ability to successfully complete the task at hand.
Last year, two of my colleagues took part in InterAction's Global Hunger Challenge: a week long commitment to live on a food budget of $34.33, the average weekly amount the average Haitian can spend on food, and write a blog reflection about the experience. When my colleagues forwarded me the email invitation to participate, I procrastinated making the decision, and eventually declined because I had “too much to do” that week and wanted to be as alert as possible. I exchanged a pang of hunger for a pang of guilt, immediately realizing the irony of the situation: the fact that I, unlike so many others, could actually choose to be hungry in symbolic solidarity, rather than out of necessity. At the end of the day, the choice was still mine. I still had the means to wake up the next morning and eat a nutritious breakfast, if I wanted to. And I did.
When it comes to malnutrition, starvation - and ultimately, death - is the worst case scenario. But my own relationship with food - my physical and psychological dependency on it - makes me think more often of what it must be like to live on the bare minimum for years on end, constantly feeling hungry and malnourished. I think of what it must be like for children who struggle to stay alert in school while their growing bodies are struggling just to function. The vicious cycle of repeated diarrhea episodes and malnutrition is especially grim, and can even result in long term cognitive impairment.
Luckily, PATH's child nutrition programs are as effective as they are innovative, ensuring that fewer families experience a life of hunger. PATH's Ultra Rice formulation looks and tastes just like white rice, but packs a nutritious punch in a staple food of more than half the world's population. In Kenya, PATH and partners are finding ways to link agricultural and health services to improve the production and consumption of the orange-fleshed sweetpotato, a “nutritional powerhouse” for pregnant women and children under five years old.
Everyone deserves basic nutrition, and we all know from personal experience that its role in physical development is just the beginning. Like safe drinking water and sanitation, it is part of a necessary foundation to a life that can thrive, rather than merely survive. The data is there to support that conviction, but I don't need it. After all, I finished this blog with the help of a peach and a cup of coffee.
-- Hope Randall, Communications Associate, defeatDD at PATH
For more information:
-- Partner spotlight: Learn how Micronutrient Initiative is saving lives in Kenya with Vitamin A supplementation.
-- Diarrhea depletes children of vital fluids and nutrients. Zinc can help children heal faster and stay healthier longer.
Photo credit: PATH