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To eat or not to eat

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“Most American children don’t starve to death.”

This is what my pediatrician said to me Friday morning during my daughter’s annual physical. He was trying to allay my concerns about Olive’s finicky eating habits. Most American children have access to and can afford plenty of good food, he was saying. If they don’t eat, it’s because they choose not to.

While I get where he was going with that logic, my pediatrician might be surprised by just how many Americans do go hungry every day. According to the results of a new GlobeScan Incorporated opinion poll funded by Oxfam, 8 percent of Americans surveyed said that they sometimes, rarely, or never had enough to eat on a daily basis. This is compared to one in five people surveyed in developing countries such as Pakistan, Mexico, and India, who said that they sometimes, rarely, or never had enough to eat on a daily basis. In very poor countries the situation was bleaker still: up to 21 percent of people in Tanzania and Kenya said they rarely or never had enough to eat.

For those of us who mindlessly fill our grocery carts every week–and only go hungry when we’re too lazy to cook, not in the mood or too busy to eat–that data can be hard to swallow. But here’s the truth: Huge numbers of people, especially in the world’s poorest countries, are cutting back on the quantity or quality of the food they eat because of rising food prices. 54 percent of people questioned globally and 56 percent in the US said they are not eating the same food as they did two years ago. Globally 39 percent of people said their diet had changed because food is simply becoming too expensive.

A changing diet

The independent poll of over 16,000 people, conducted in 17 countries around the world, also revealed how globalization is changing what people eat with pizza and pasta topping the list of favorite foods in many countries alongside national dishes. Oxfam conducted additional interviews that show many people in developing countries are either eating less food, eating cheaper items, or enjoying less diversity in their diets as a result of rising food prices.

Western foods like pizza and pasta are most popular in the US, but becoming more popular around the world.
Western foods like pizza and pasta are most popular in the US, but becoming more popular around the world.
In developing countries like Tanzania, staples like rice are the most popular foods.
In developing countries like Tanzania, staples like rice are the most popular foods.

“My favorite food is rice with beans and meat, but it is very expensive,” said Edson James Kamba, 69, from Malawi. “The price of food keeps going up. I would like some milk to drink but I can’t buy it. I used to have margarine and jam with bread but now I can’t afford it. When I see people on TV they are always eating very good things like meat, chicken and eggs. If I was there I would have those things. We want it but we can’t afford it.”

Earlier this month, Oxfam launched a new campaign to change the global food system so that people like Edson Kamba have enough food to thrive. We believe everyone has the right to choose how much they want to eat; they shouldn’t have to watch flickering TV images of strangers enjoying what they can’t afford.

To take action, go to: www.oxfamamerica.org/grow

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  1.  avatarPanic Attack

    The fact that 8 percent of Americans surveyed said that they sometimes, rarely, or never had enough to eat on a daily basis is a bit shocking. It’s difficult to believe that there are many who go hungry in the US but these facts and an understanding of how the poor have a difficult time to meet their needs will show that indeed this is the sad truth.

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