On World Food Day, I don’t want to write a blog as if for my teenage students. We are all adults, and we all know that the causes of hunger are complex and myriad, and range from drought, to war, to the use of arable land to plant bio-fuel crops. We adults we know that as worthy, and generationally effective, as sponsoring a child or loaning money to an entrepreneur through a micro loan agency such as Kiva is, it doesn’t solve a cataclysmic “issue” that amounts to 1 billion people going hungry in the world.
But if you’re an adult it also means certain things. Like if you have made it to this age, it means that you know something about trying, trying, and trying again. You probably have an inkling about what’s important by now. You may have had children, and know what it’s like to be gripped by the urge to protect and look after them; it’s not too big a stretch to imagine how a parent who cannot look after her or his child might feel. You have probably seen changes that when you were a kid were certain couldn’t happen without bloodshed: the demolition of the Berlin wall, the dismantling of apartheid.
I’m not big on guilt. Guilt is, to me, the ultimate self-indulgence. It provides a buzz: “Ooh I feel so bad about this you can’t believe how bad I feel I’m just totally cut up look I’ve got tears in my eyes and I’m so earnest I’ll even post about it on my Facebook status so that proves I’m human right?” Being human, however, requires more than feeling, it requires action, and that leads me to the thing I am big on.
You can stay stuck in guilt forever, but you can’t stay stuck when you’re in responsibility. Responsibility means owning. Means doing. Lots of doing. So much doing that you won’t have either the time or inclination to “click ‘like’ if you agree”.
That’s why I’m not going to waste any time trying to push your guilt buttons. There are people in your life better at it than I. Instead, I’m thinking that if you are reading this blog, there’s also a good chance that you are used to feeding people, or that you understand there’s something primal about providing and nourishing, even beyond the boundaries of your nearest and dearest (else why the existence of so many food blogs that reach out to all corners of the globe?). This is something we all GET. We may well be enjoying this fillet steak, or indeed this piece of bread, but we don’t like the thought of others not having the same. Given your druthers, you’d shout, “Fillet steak and bread for all!”
Well, maybe one day.
In the meantime, let me introduce you to a people that are rather well known for being practical and pragmatic: the British.
Oxfam UK has a brilliant campaign called 4-a-Week going. This simple-as idea is designed to make a tangible difference in the lives of people living in poverty and just involves doing four easy things each week:
1. Buy one more Fairtrade product
2. Buy one more food product from a developing country
3. Throw one less item of food away
4. Eat one less portion of meat or dairy
If you don’t know what Fairtrade is by now, you should. It’s all about a better deal for the farmers and workers who work to bring you your chocolate or breakfast cuppa, and every purchase makes a difference. Look for the distinctive Fairtrade logo wherever you shop, and if you can’t see any products where you shop, demand them. (Don’t kid yourself, however, that companies who advertise something akin to Fairtrade without the name and logo themselves are actually doing anything. Your morning coffee from Starbuck’s may promise to be “ethical”, but Starbuck’s is, in fact, self-regulating about what constitutes “ethical” and “fair trade”. Starbuck’s stopped paying a premium price for their coffee a long time ago, and they conduct their own inspections of coffee farms.)
Yes, of course it’s good to buy local. And yes, of course food miles are important. But let’s not be coy here and pretend everything we eat is locally sourced or foraged. Where is your olive oil from? How about that Arborio rice you make your risotto with? There is room in your shopping basked for a handful of dates from the Middle East, or some lentils from India. Don’t know what classifies as a “developing country”? No worries, I have a big fat list for you right here.
Throwing one less item of food away is a subject of a whole nother blog because there are so many ways to go about this. The simplest way is to buy only what you know you’ll use. And if you don’t, use it. Those potatoes will turn into a great frittata, and you know curry tastes better the next day. Use the freezer. Get organised. Have a big cook-off – perhaps on Recycling Fridays – of the stuff in the ‘fridge before you go shopping. The Love Food Hate Waste site has lots of ideas on how to avoid waste.
Eating one less portion of meat or dairy makes an impact in two ways. The first is environmental, since all that livestock must have an effect. The other one is a matter of resource allocation. The production of beef, for example, requires 4.8 lb./2kg of grain fed to cattle to produce just 1 lb./450g. of beef. That is grain that could be used for humans. A 10-acre farm can support as many as 60 people by growing soybeans, but only two people by producing cattle. Now – I love me some beef, but I love me some grain, too. Give me a plate of pasta pesto or a bourghul pilaf dotted with chickpeas and roasted peppers and I won’t even notice there wasn’t meat or dairy. Neither will you.
Come on. Four things a week is easy. Let’s do this. Because we're grownups, and we know how to get things done.