This column is dedicated to Food Day and our bicentennial celebration.
While nursing my rosey two-month-old, I read of the death by starvation of a three-month-old child in — no, not India — but within the “Golden Triad,” in Winston-Salem. The child lived one block from a federally-sponsored health center and her mother qualified for ADC benefits and food stamps.
“Sarah Runninghorse is an American Indian. . . . Sarah lives in a one room shack with her mother, father and nine brothers and sisters. There is no plumbing. Little food. No money . . .” (from an ad for an organization called Futures for Children).
I weep over a photograph in National Geographic of a mother in India who is weeping over the bloated body of her dying child; her malnourished body cannot produce milk. Meanwhile, rats and insects and poor storage are responsible for the loss of 10 million tons of food grains each year in India.
There are more than 400 million people around the world who daily face starvation. They are constantly hungry — not a hunger pang that can be deadened by chewing gum or cigarettes but an anguished gnawing in their bellies.
“The average North American uses as much as five times as many agricultural resources as the average Indian, Nigerian or Colombian. The amount of feedstock required to nurture one pound of beef is equivalent to the grain diet of an average Indian adult for five days.”(World Almanac, 1976)
In North America, 40% of the human diet is protein (milk, meat, eggs, fish) while it is only 11% in Africa, 9% in the Near East, and 5% in the Far East. In 1970, one third of the world’s population — the developed countries — consumed 51% of all cereals produced. And two-thirds of that was used for animal feed. The rest of the world consumes over 90% of their grain directly as food.
In a recent issue of that truly American journal, TV Guide, there were seven advertisements for weight reduction methods (only outnumbered by liquor and cigarette ads).
Consumers complain about the high cost of food despite the fact that Americans spend less of their net income on food (17%) than any other nation.
Calorie-counting is a favorite indoor sport in the United States. The U.S. National Research Council recommends 2500 calories a day for the average healthy adult; the populations of over 40 countries consume considerably less than 2000 calories daily, and those are empty, starchy ones.
Almost all the fertile land in the area where I live is used for the cultivation of tobacco (N.C. produced almost 400,000 tons in 1974) and we know how much cigarettes have benefitted human development.
Americans throw away edible foodstuffs (you’ve read about the studies of the “garbage” discarded by two middle-class Arizona communities).
And my parents worry that I don’t have a two-week supply of food in the pantry “in case of emergency.”
There seems to be some distortion. Obviously, the well-fed American will have to step away from the feeding trough and look around at the world — the whole world. The chasm between those who eat and those who don’t is too wide.
There has been much said about the problem, about population growth, unfavorable weather (our “bread basket” states are now anxious about a drought that recurs every 20 years, the same cycle that caused the duststorms of the 30’s), climatic changes (are we entering another Ice Age? are the poles shifting?), the failure of the Green Revolution due to the exorbitant price of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the dependence on machinery and technology beyond the income of the small farmer, and the possibility of world-wide famine (one think tank forecast is a “high probability” of “very severe food shortages” affecting billions of people). Despite our wealth and technology, more people are hungrier than ever. What do we do? If we did anything would it change the course of events? Why should we bear the burden for those who can’t seem to help themselves?
Maybe now, in our bicentennial year, it would be valuable to re-examine the ideals and rights that we as Americans so blithely take for granted. I do not mean to say that the United States is anywhere near a model of an ideal society or that we have successfully coped with many of the problems that have beset us during the past two centuries. But America does offer one thing that few other countries have and that is relative freedom of the individual. And with that freedom comes the incredible responsibility to use it wisely; unfortunately, the majority of us have failed to do that. That is not an American trait, that is undisciplined human nature. Only by realizing the enormous power and responsibility our freedom brings and facing the situation in that context can we be true to our American heritage and our uniqueness as human beings.
For no other creature has the capacity — and the almost driving need — to make choices. Homo sapiens has been defined by some psychologists as the “decision-maker.” The essence of our Judeo-Christian heritage is based on choosing one course of action over another. In 1976, too many of us have allowed our decision-making to be limited to selecting channel 4 or channel 12, Democrat or Republican, Coke or Pepsi; and that is no choice at all.
Some environmental experts claim that we have less than 10 years to make the necessary changes to avert disaster. Some say we can’t do it at all. Evangelists remind us of Jonah’s charge to convert the sinful city of Ninevah, to persuade the people to change their ways and thus escape the fury and destruction of God’s wrath (Jonah was skeptical and tried to avoid the job — hence the ride in the whale — but when he finally got there the people listened, reformed and the city was saved). We, too, they say, are being warned and can still alter the future if we make the right decisions now.
My generation, children of the materialist age, suckled on the breast of the fat wife of prosperity, spoon-fed and nurtured by 20th century technology, surrounded by Geniis of the Magic Lamp (“your wish is my command”), has had the opportunity to learn that physical comfort and physical well-being does not satisfy certain basic, spiritual needs. For the first time in human history (that we know of) most of the people in one nation are well-fed, well-clothed and now have the time and freedom to develop their potential. And, ironically, to do so probably means to sacrifice that life-style of abundance and material satisfaction.
I believe that human beings are on a level apart from the other creatures for a reason. The bluebird is a beautiful creature in color and song, but not due to any special actions of the individual bird. Only humans have the capability to choose to be demon or angel. Sitting back and letting the next guy make the decision for you is not an abstention, but a negative vote. Each of us must face our responsibility and must set an example for others to follow.
What can we do? Experts say that the combined crises of food, population, energy and urbanization will have to be met by international cooperation and interdependence. The political problems are probably the greatest of all: overcoming the nationalistic selfishness that is inherent in all governments. Education, too, is crucial; ignorance and greed probably cause more deaths than food shortages. Those of us who are politically oriented must try to work for global cooperation and education. And we must all try to maintain a world-wide perspective in even our everyday problems.
Encouraging the small farmer is another proposal, thus stemming the flow of population to the cities, providing meaningful employment, bolstering food supplies, and encouraging self-sufficiency rather than reliance on bureaucracy.
But one element in easing the food situation is within the power of each of us: modifying the high food and energy consumption now prevalent in our affluent society. Food expert Lester Brown has estimated that if Americans reduced their total food consumption by only 10% the savings would amount to 12 million tons of grain — more than enough to cover India’s food deficit last year. The simplest way to do that is by cutting back on the amount of meat we eat. Then the feed and land used to fatten the cattle, hogs and sheep we eat would be used directly to feed the consumer.
And now I come to my particular eccentricity — vegetarianism. I am a vegetarian for several equally valid reasons: I don’t particularly care to ingest hormones, artificial colors, and chemicals used in modern meat processing; I do not approve of the way the animals are treated as they are fattened for market; I personally could not kill an animal (unless for survival) and cannot ask another to do it for me; I don’t think a diet as high in animal protein as is our American diet is very healthy; and I don’t think I have a right to inefficiently use our agricultural resources by feeding 91% of the corn, 77% of the soybean meal, 64% of the barley, and 88% of the oats to livestock animals when there are millions of people who are daily dying of starvation. If we as a race are meant to survive with our consciences and souls intact, we as individuals will have to make a decision on changing our lifestyles. Vegetarianism is probably the most painless contribution one can make. By carefully adjusting your diet, you can have nourishing and delicious meals without any meat or poultry. You can grow a greater proportion of your food thereby saving money and deriving the satisfaction of self-sufficiency. You will find cooking to be more creative and meaningful. And you will find yourself thinking about the world around you a little differently. But, even more important, you will have made a definite decision and commitment to your fellow human beings.
There have been enumerable books written on the subject. The best one for the beginner is Diet for a Small Planet which explains how to correctly combine grains and beans, seeds and nuts, fruits and vegetables to provide complete proteins and why such a diet has become essential if we mean to survive the century. If you don’t believe you want to cut out all animal protein (I eat dairy products and some fish) there are other books which will help you easily adjust to this new diet.
This is supposed to be a food column and so I will conclude with a menu and a recipe to help inaugurate your new consciousness.
Food Day Supper
raw vegetable salad with sesame seed dressing
steamed broccoli with lemon juice
serenity brown rice
whole grain bread with soybean spread
Serenity Brown Rice
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
½ tspn. kelp
¼ tspn. salt
pinch of sage
4 tblspns. oil
¼ cup chopped green onions or onion
½ cup chopped cashew nuts (or mixed nuts)
½ cup chopped apricots
Place rice, water and seasonings in saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cover. Cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Then let it sit away from heat for ten minutes.
Pour oil in skillet. Saute onions and nuts and apricots until just cooked. Stir in rice and mix well. Simmer together about ten minutes, stirring frequently.
Food Day — April 8 — is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization founded in 1971 by three of Ralph Nader’s co-workers.
At 7:30 p.m. in the Community Church, Chapel Hill, there will be a meeting for those interested in (1) buying and consuming whole foods, (2) the organic growth of food, and (3) world hunger and the part our lifestyle plays in it. The creation of a coalition to sustain community interest in nutrition will be discussed. For further information contact Gayle Garrison or Janet Swigler.