First Person

In a hungry world, a birthday package goes missing

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I recently mailed a package to my son in India. His birthday was coming and he said he longed for some favorites from home—including meat. I obliged, loading the box with beef jerky and other goodies. When one of your own says he’s hungry, you want to fill him up. It’s a maternal instinct, surely.

But what was I thinking?

I’ve been asking myself that question since being reminded that the global food crisis hasn’t gone away; it’s just gone into hiding. A report circulated at work the other day quoted Nobel-prize winner Paul Krugman warning that once the world begins to climb out of its economic slump, we’ll be staring into the face of the food crisis fueled, in part, by our growing appetite for meat. The UN says that one kilogram of meat takes seven kilograms of cereal to produce. That’s 15 pounds of cereal that hungry people, instead of a cow, could be eating.

And beef jerky only makes the equation worse. What’s left of a kilogram of meat—about 2.2 pounds—after it’s been jerked? A few skinny strips of tough protein that cost an exorbitant amount in the supermarket and won’t go nearly as far in satisfying hunger as 15 pounds of grain would.

In my mind’s eye, I see a picture that ran with a stunning story by Somini Sengupta recently in the New York Times. It was about hunger in India where 42.5 percent of children under the age of five are underweight—a sign of malnutrition. In the picture, a tiny girl bundled in blankets and unbearably thin, struggles to sip from a spoon. It’s the kind of picture that makes you ache—all over.

Which brings me back to the package I sent to my son: I handed it over to the postman about six weeks ago and had begun to lose faith that it would ever arrive. When I mentioned to an Indian friend here at Oxfam that a box I had shipped to the northern part of her country seemed to have gone missing, she asked, with a knowing look on her face, “did it have food?”

I nodded.

“Then somebody probably ate it,” she said.

She was right. Somebody did eat it. I got a message from my son this morning saying that the package had finally arrived–with most of its contents gone. In place of the food, someone had left a few beads. Probably that someone needed the food a great deal more than he did, and I’m glad that the occasion of his birthday allowed that person—maybe she was even a mother with children to feed—to take the edge off their hunger. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+