‘There’s nothing yummy to eat!’
During the school breaks, one of our expressions of love is through sharing food and eating together as a family - whether cooked meals from scratch or eating out. Yesterday, I opened my refrigerator when I felt a late-night hunger pang; there were raw vegetables, fruit, dairy products and some cooked food. My young son came to me and complained: "There's nothing yummy to eat!" I opened the cabinet of the dry groceries, where I found several bags of lentil, rice, flour and some other stuff. As an experienced cook and meal planner, I’ve cooked food well within our budget. I didn't feel comfortable with my son's complaint, but I know this wasn't necessarily him displaying ingratitude; it was more a bored young urban kid who hasn't experienced real hunger or scarcity of food. Alhamdulillah. We’ve seen ups and downs, but the food on the table has always been full. More gratitude to The Provider, Alhamdulillah!
There hasn't been a single time in my life that I’ve been without food, or that I’ve gone to sleep without a meal. However, I’ve seen people experience hunger; I’ve seen people with little or less food - people who might have enough food but not the right kind of nutrition needed for a healthy and functioning body. World hunger is a real problem, something many of us have witnessed first hand. In fact, according to statistics, world hunger increased in the year 2016.
11% of the world’s population is hungry
Most of the world's hungry live in underdeveloped countries. According to the UN, global hunger is on the rise, affecting 815 million people in 2016, or 11% of the entire world. That’s a huge amount of people. If we want to visualise 11% of the population, let's put together the entire communities of the US, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand, which is roughly the same amount of people. Can you imagine the people of four countries going hungry? Can you believe how many people do not have their basic needs fulfilled?
What is hunger?
Now, you might ask, what exactly does being hungry entail? Is it a one-off event or being hungry for several days? Is it not having enough to fill your tummy every day or not being able to buy a variety of food? There are many definitions of the word “hunger, but imagine the Ramadan fasts of thirty days - where we, in fact, have the possibility of eating suhoor and iftar - with little or no food.
This is the everyday reality of millions of people in Asia (520 million), Africa (243 million) and Latin America and the Caribbean (42 million). In percentages, it means Asia (11.7%), Africa (20%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (6.6%).
According to the United Nations, one in nine people in the world is undernourished. When it comes to malnutrition, children and women face the worst consequences. And from this group, children are impacted the worst because food is an essential building block for any living being to grow. Food is necessary for our daily functioning, like moving our limbs, walking and regular brain activities. Even if someone does not go completely hungry, the lack of a balanced diet can be disastrous, especially for growing children, pregnant mothers, the sick, and the elderly.
Different types of malnutrition
There are 2 types of malnutrition:
1. Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM)
2. Micronutrient deficiency diseases
Today, I will focus on protein-energy malnutrition (PEM).
This kind of malnutrition refers to the lack of protein and energy in varying proportions. Protein is one of the most vital nutrients for body functions, maintenance of muscles and provision of essential amino acids. The most dangerous kind of hunger is PEM. Lack of access to an adequate nutrient intake causes primary PEM, which is more common in children and the elderly.
With a sufficient amount of the right kind of food, it is possible to reverse the structural and functional abnormalities associated with it. However, long-term primary PEM can cause unalterable damage to the functions of organs and general growth.
In children, PEM occurs due to nutritional deficiency, especially protein, and can create several different types of disorders. This type of malnutrion can cause children to be underweight, and it can also stunt their growth (according to UNICEF, 161 million children are affected by stunting).
This brief picture of the current statistics of world hunger and the drastic effects of long-term malnutrition should give us, the cohabitants of this planet, a picture of what needs to be done and what we can do to help others in less fortunate situations.
People need a carefully balanced diet - not just food relief.
Now we know that long-term insufficient food intake has a drastic effect, especially on children, the elderly, and the sick. NGOs working in these sectors can make policies and plans accordingly. Long-term food supplies are needed, especially in impoverished areas, and not just in times when a disaster or war hits a country - although it is true that in a crisis, vulnerable groups are hit the worst.
Understanding the food-related needs of a community during times of crisis is exceptionally crucial, and so is understanding the need for a balanced diet, and what that entails.
You can help
When donating food to a food drive or charity, consider the importance of proteins and other nutrients that are essential for human growth and maintenance.
Malnutrition is a day to day reality, even in developed and industrialised countries, and especially in low-income areas and for those that are homeless. Also, if the governments and social benefits of industrialised nations provide some support, we as individuals can still chip in to overcome the food shortage of low-income groups.
In this regard, we should make a long-term plan to help those in need, as a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be on him) recommends:
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”
Alia Amir is a Sweden-based linguist and conversation analyst by profession; a storyteller, an aspiring writer, and a lover of world cultures, languages, and traditions. She writes and blogs at The Linguistsays.
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