I’m on the road doing some reporting and woke this morning still full from a late supper last night: a hefty hamburger, a heap of greasy fries, and a crisp, green salad. Lord knows how many calories I packed away. That’s not the kind of thing I usually think about. But I did this morning when I opened an e-mail from my colleague Ian Mashingaidze in South Africa.
It included a link to a report just issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute: an index measuring the state of hunger globally. It ranks countries using three indicators. One of them is the proportion of people who are calorie deficient, or undernourished.
Called the 2008 Global Hunger Index, it is not a snapshot of what’s happening this moment because its most recent data is from 2006. It does not reflect the current wild gyration in food prices and what that means for the ability of families to feed themselves. But the index does paint a picture of how bad things were for many people—before they began to get worse.
And this is what got me: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 74 percent of the population is calorie deficient. Basically, that means three-quarters of the Congolese people are undernourished.
What if three-quarters of the population of the United States was undernourished?
What if my 16-year-old son, who’s as thin and taut as a two-by-four, couldn’t poke through the cupboards in our kitchen every half hour to satisfy his hunger?
What if my husband wasn’t able to reassure our children—as he has done ever since they were small—that there will always be enough food for them?
I think of the mother I met last summer in Ethiopia where drought and food shortages have left more than 13 million people in dire need of aid. Her family was surviving on just one meal a day, and it was the scantest of meals: a bit of wheat mixed with water and salt. She said her children had adapted to this kind of life—a life of hunger. Once they had crossed that threshold, they didn’t complain, she said.
They bore their hunger.
Too much of the world does.